Mai and Eliana's Flares ended when they turned seventeen and began the short year toward maturity. Eliana went down to a relatively normal royal angel's level of appeal. Mai did not. While she did stop Flaring, she still had twice the impact of Eliana or even Josh. People would feel instant desire for her on first meeting unless she managed to crank down the volume. Perhaps as an apology for her appeal being so over the top, she actually had the ability to turn it up or down to some degree. She could keep it to a dull roar so people only just stopped and stared.
Josh hit final maturity at eighteen and settled into his power with grace. His green eyes turned to iridescent gold like his father's had at the same age, marking him as the heir to the Crystal Kingdom, but that was the only outward change. Things were surprisingly low-key overall for him hitting maturity. Then again, Laila was only fifteen. Josh had plenty of patience to spare and was willing to wait to be sure if she was his destined mate. Three years was not too long to endure if it meant waiting for his ultimate happiness.
The poor twins hit their Flare the year after he hit maturity. It could have been quite simple for them if they would pick a target, yet the only target either wanted was the one they had convinced themselves they should not have. They locked down instead and refrained from going out in public together. It only helped a bit. Sami had to enlist Kayden's aid in keeping them healthy, but that did not actually do her any good. Kev adamantly refused to let Kayden guard him—and it was a very telling thing. Mai immediately bent Kev's ear and gave him a blistering lecture. If he had the hots for Kayden, he ought to just give in and enjoy it. She envied him that opportunity, really.
Amusing one and all, it turned out that she was not actually affected in the slightest by the twins' Flare. They immediately began spending most of their time with her, preferring her company over any guardian or family member . . . especially Kayden and Josh. The high prince took it with humor. He knew damned well he was giving Laila issues, and that didn't bother him at all. She had given him plenty already.
A month after the twins' Flare started, Eliana hit final maturity. She also settled into her power comfortably, and she made good on her promise. The very morning of her birthday, she literally tripped her guardian to the floor and pinned him down until he looked her in the eye and accepted what she had known all along about their destiny. Alyenna and Malthus were not surprised either, and they happily began planning a royal wedding.
A month later than that, Mai should have hit final maturity.
She did not. By that point, after all the other strange things going on, no one really could be too surprised. Her eyes stubbornly remained green, rather than the silver they should turn as her mother's heir, and she did not cement into her power. She continued on just as she had the year before.
It left her and Alexander mutually miserable. Their desire for each other had not ended with Flare. It simply continued to steadily grow over time. They both fought to keep it hidden; what they already had between them was too precious to both of them to dare risk losing. It was the entire reason why they were holding out for her maturity at all.
She did not hit maturity at nineteen either. Alyenna's heart broke over her beloved daughter's misery, so she sent for Sami to come examine Mai. There had to be something going on! Sami was the strongest healer in either kingdom other than Mai herself; if Sami could not figure it out, then no one else ever could. She was their only hope.
When Sami arrived and walked into the drawing room where Mai waited, she saw the princess standing at the window. The sunlight made her glow brightly and beautifully, but it looked . . . a bit stifled somehow.
Sami walked over to her side and looked out the window. Alexander was with the twins in the gardens below. Kev had been dogging his heels to learn advanced magic. Laila wanted to learn more about swords. Their Flare had ended the month prior, and they were steadily approaching maturity, so they wanted to study more. Alexander had taken them under his wing, so to speak.
"I love him, Sami," Mai murmured.
Sami looked at her. "I had noticed. Trust me."
She closed her eyes. "The most important person in my life. It would be so much simpler if I did not want him the way I do."
"Life would be much simpler without desire at all, but perhaps far more unenjoyable." Sami tugged her over to a chair and made her sit down. "Maitena," she sighed it, "speaking as his best friend and a royal guardian, he is your destined mate. Whether your final maturity tells you or not, you may as well give in now, and both of you be much happier."
"Sami." Mai didn't look up. "Did you know that sometimes an unrequited love appears between guardian and angel?"
"Yes, of course."
"Did you know that it can literally evaporate when the angel hits maturity?"
She said nothing for long moments, then, "No, actually, I did not. I see." That certainly explained why Alexander and Mai were trying to be so careful. On the other hand, Sami was positive that they were mates. It had been there long before Mai had ever hit puberty let alone started Flaring. It had merely grown along with her. Still, Sami could not blame them. Their relationship was already profound. "May I say only one more thing? I promise it will be my last word on it."
"I still think you need to give in and seduce Alex if only to make him less inclined to take out his frustration on me, Kayden, and Maduin."
She started laughing. "You did not just tell me that. If you're that worried, take him into the city to the brothel." Under her breath, she muttered, "But don't tell me if you do. I'd probably kill an undeserving mortal."
"I offered three years ago," Sami admitted bluntly. Mai stared at her, and she smiled wryly. "While you were in Flare. He refused." She cuffed Mai's chin. "He's waiting for you, Mai. Now let's see if we can figure out how long this wait will be. Turn around."
Mai swung around and Sami lightly pressed her hands to her back. The skin was taut in a familiar way that meant Mai's wings were moving beneath, and Sami could certainly feel the snap of her power pressing against its current limitations. All of that was perfectly normal for an angel on the cusp of maturity. What was not normal was the lockdown she got an impression of inside Mai. "Huh." She sat back.
Mai turned around. "What is it?"
"There's some strange . . . lock inside you. For whatever reason, nature itself has stopped you from reaching final maturity at eighteen." She frowned thoughtfully. "I'm beginning to think it might be deliberate. You know how an angel who goes without Awakening for too long will release massive quantities of power?"
Mai's eyes widened. "For whatever reason, I'm being forced to reach a point where maturity will cause me to release some shockwave. But why, Sami? Why has any of this been happening to me? Why can't I be normal?"
"I don't know." She sighed and hugged Mai when the angel threw her arms around her. "I am sorry, Maitena. All I can assume is that it has to do with the Shadow element inside you. Whenever you finally, blessedly, reach maturity, we will have our answers." She smiled and eased Mai back. "Now, on a lighter note, did I hear correctly that Aya will be moving into the castle as an official member of the family?"
Mai grinned. "You did! She's always been more like a little sister to me than merely a second cousin, and she's a Shaman too." She fluttered her lashes. "She'll arrive next year, just a month before the twins hit final maturity. She had her own recently. She avoided Flare, the lucky thing, but she definitely still hit final maturity, so she will most assuredly know her destined mate on sight. You had better make arrangements with Kayden."
Sami smiled. That was more like their Mai. She was always the first to meddle and play matchmaker. She should have been the Goddess of Love. It was just a damned shame that her own love affairs could not be so easily sorted.
Aya did indeed come out the following year, and she took up residence in the Crystal palace as a member of the royal family. Mai and Alexander didn't bother to waste time or words. The same week Aya arrived, Mai grabbed her and literally dragged her into the grand hall just as Alexander literally dragged Sami in from the outside. Aya and Sami's eyes met, and the answer was there as had always been known. It was that look into the eyes—all the way into a soul—that could trigger the recognition of destined mates.
The arrangements had already been in place and pending. Sami's guardian duties were turned over to Kayden so she could guard Aya instead, who had actually never had a guardian because of her thin blood. The twins were ecstatic over the change if only because they loved Sami like she was their sister, and they wanted her happy. The only itsy-bitsy problem for the twins was that Kev still had the hots for Kayden, and having Kayden as a guardian meant Laila couldn't avoid Josh as much as she wanted. All of their parents sat back and prepared to enjoy the fireworks.
The fireworks started the day the twins turned eighteen. Josh had waited long enough. He went hunting for Laila the very morning of the event. The younger angel wasn't stupid. She made a beeline for the tree house in the gardens where she could safely hide. She yanked up the ladder behind her as a warning.
Josh just sighed as he stood at the bottom of the tree. "Laila. Seriously. Is it really that distasteful at the idea I might be your destined mate? Do you hate me?"
"No," came the mutter.
"Think I'm ugly?"
"Of course not!"
"In any way have objections to the fact that I am older, more powerful, and capable of kicking your ass as a Warrior?"
"Well, kind of, but, no."
He lifted a brow. "Then what the hell is your problem, damn it? If you try to tell me you're not as absolutely miserable as I am, I'm going to break a family rule and call my cousin a liar!"
The near wail came from the treetop, "I don't want to be a queen!"
He dropped his head into his hands. "Oh, for crying out loud. Is that all? Shit, Laila. You know that I'm the one who will be doing all the work."
"Bullshit! Aunt Gillian is always working just as hard as Uncle Anthony!" Though, technically, Gillian and Anthony were technically cousins once removed to the twins, the age gap made it easier to just call them aunt and uncle.
"Okay, point conceded." He opened his wings, and he was entirely bemused that Laila had forgotten angels could fly. "But the burdens will still be mostly on me." He flew up, peeked in the window, and saw Laila looking warily out the other window. Silently, stealthily, he crept into the tree house.
Laila didn't know he was there as she warily kept watch out the window. She loved Josh more than anything, even her own twin. She just knew for a fact that he was hell on wheels, would always get his way, and trying to help him run the kingdom would absolutely be a nightmare!
She had always been very happy to be a lesser royal; she really didn't want to be a queen. She had ached watching Josh grow up under the expectation of ruling. He said he was perfectly fine with it, but she knew he was always happier when he could get away. She was stupidly in love with her cousin, and she knew it. Stupid destiny.
The touch of an Air element reached her just before arms shot around her waist. "Gah!" The tussle lasted less than a second, and she found herself flat on the ground with Josh pinning her down. "Damn it, Joshua!" she snarled. "You can be such a jerk!" She kept her head stubbornly turned. She would not look into those sexy gold eyes and be doomed.
"Laila." It was said achingly. "I need you at my side. Please. I've been waiting so long for this."
Her heart broke. She slowly turned her head and looked up into his eyes. The detonation was hard and fast, sweeping from her soul outward until her wings and body ached with violent, greedy desire. Red color moved through her eyes even as green moved through his, evidence of their Fire and Air elements responding as well. She could not fight her wings' demand, and they opened out into a spread position under her where they shimmered in the soft light.
Josh lowered his head until their lips were a breath apart. "You are my destined mate. Nothing else matters but this, Laila."
"You're such a pain," she groused against his lips. "I'm going to spend all my time trying to keep you from doing something stupid."
He grinned. "Yeah." He lowered his forehead to touch hers. "You're not stressing over my betrothal to Mai, are you?"
"Eh, I was never really jealous. For one thing, it was always conditional on you and her being or not being mates." She winced wryly. "For another, would you believe she actually pulled me aside a few years ago to tell me in no uncertain terms that she would not marry you because it would be 'immoral in her brain'?"
He had to laugh. "I believe it. I said something similar to her while she was in Flare." He skimmed his lips over Laila's and savored the way her breath caught. He had waited his entire life for that moment.
"B-but, what about the alliance?" She was fast losing the ability to think at all.
"Covered." He nibbled at her jaw. "Maduin has Summerwing blood, and Eliana has Everbird blood. When they get married next month, the alliance will be considered concrete. Destiny provides, Laila."
She muttered a single explicitly rude word and then turned her head and found his lips with hers. Stupidly in love. No better phrase existed for the way destined mates could never live without each other. "Don't you dare seduce me up here!" she groused when the kiss finally broke. "We won't live it down."
"Nobody will know." His fingers were already nimbly unbuttoning her shirt.
"Yes they will!" She groaned when hot hands moved over her skin. "You won't always get your way!"
"I'm a future king. Sure I will."
On the other side of the palace grounds, Kev was in both a better position and yet also worse position than his sister. He had managed to evade Kayden all morning, but his guardian always knew where to find him. It really wasn't fair of destiny to make a guardian be an angel's destined mate. And, yes, he suspected that that was what Kayden was to him.
It just didn't seem right! Kayden had been an adult before Kev had even hit Awakening, and he was powerful, strong, and incredibly gentle. The gentle giant, Kev often thought of him. He stood at a surprisingly tall six-six height and was overall large with it. He was also the gentlest and sweetest person Kev had ever known. At least until the twins or Josh got themselves into trouble. Kayden put up with a lot of their antics, but letting them get into danger was a big button for the guardian.
He was also ridiculously gorgeous. Kev peeked cautiously down the hall he was in and then sighed and leaned against the wall. It would be more fair to make bigger people less beautiful because they had more landscape, but in Kayden's case, nature had gleefully put every inch to good use. Kev loved his pale hair and auburn eyes, and he would have to have been absolutely blind to miss his sculpted guardian body.
The one he loved most. He was never happier than near Kayden. But a fourteen year age gap! Kayden couldn't possibly be his destined mate. It had to be unrequited.
He gulped and opened his eyes to see familiar boots. He slowly lifted his gaze and found himself looking at his very patient guardian. His green eyes skittered away before they met Kayden's auburn ones. "I didn't do it. Whatever happened was Laila's fault."
Kayden just smiled. "You can't blame her this time, Kev." He pressed a hand against the wall and leaned in. "You're breaking my heart, Kev," he said softly. "It kills me to watch you run from me. Why are you so afraid? You went to Sami for your first kiss and not me." His hand curled into a fist. "I almost broke her nose."
"I just . . ." How the hell was he supposed to say that he just didn't feel he deserved Kayden? A man who had worked his way up from being a servant to being a royal guardian that everyone admired and respected? Kayden was his idol.
His eyes moved out the window, and he spotted Mai arriving with Alexander, Sami, and Aya. They were there for the birthday party for the twins. The others would be arriving within another hour or so.
"I'm in love with Mai!" he blurted.
Kayden straightened and backed up quickly. He knew it was certainly plausible. Angels could love someone that wasn't their destined mate; they just wouldn't love that person with their soul. They would never be truly, deeply, eternally happy. And, certainly, Mai had always been a favored person of both twins.
His hands slowly curled into fists at his side as possessive fury churned. He had very nearly walked away before he realized Kev would still not look him in the eye. If he was in love with Mai and didn't think Kayden was his destined mate, why would he fear meeting his gaze? His angel was downright terrified, and, realizing it, Kayden's anger melted. Final maturity, and what came between destined mates, could be just as terrifying as what happened during a Flare. Maybe more.
Kev gulped as Kayden turned and walked away. He needed to get to Mai first and ask her to go along with things to give him some breathing room!
Kayden knew more shortcuts than he did, and he had longer legs to boot. He strode into the grand hall where the arrivals were taking off their coats and told Mai without preamble, "Kev says he's in love with you."
Mai's jaw dropped, and Aya about fell over. Alexander's initial surprise was shortly overwhelmed by fury, and his eyes darkened warningly. Sami hastily grabbed his arm. "Let's get a drink. Kayden, come with us." She dragged her best friend quickly down the hall, and Kayden followed along.
Mai and Aya were left behind, and they could only stare at each other. What the hell was going on in this castle?
Sami stopped dragging Alexander once they were in another room. Alexander barely spared her a look as he narrowed his eyes at Kayden. "Tell me why I should not find Kev and clip his wings." Magic moved across his eyes. "Maitena belongs to me, whether she is in final maturity or not. I won't allow a rival any more than she would."
"Easy." Kayden held up his hands. "There's no rivalry. Kev was lying. Well, technically, not lying. He does love her a great deal." He sighed and raked a hand through his hair. "I am Kev's destined mate, and he won't seem to tell me why he's afraid of such a thing." He scowled at Sami. "He went to you for his first kiss."
"And it was relatively awkward on my side as well," she retorted. "I tried to tell him to go to you, especially because he was already attracted to you, but he's as stubborn as any angel. Gets his willpower from his father, for certain." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Of course he would just have to make things more complicated than they are. Tell me, at the least, Laila and Josh are fine."
"Trust me when I say to not go near the tree house in the East Garden."
Alexander snorted softly as his anger went away entirely. In its place came sympathy for Kev. It was, indeed, a scary time. "Josh cornered her?"
"He had to. The twins are too much alike." Kayden eyed him. "Would Mai go along with Kev's farce to help him?"
He snorted again. "She'd sooner tear a strip off his hide for being an idiot and probably tell him to come jump you and just get over it."
Mai and Aya had parted ways in the hall so that the younger cousin could find the party room where she could add their gifts to the pile. Mai instead headed for the pond in the West Gardens for some much needed fresh air. She chose the West Gardens deliberately since she had sensed a certain merging of power as soon as she was on the castle's grounds. She wasn't an idiot.
As she was skipping a stone across the pond, she sensed Kev approach. She turned and eyed him. "You are not in love with me."
He sighed as he stopped beside her. "No."
"Annnd . . . ?"
He scowled. "Can't you just go along with things? Pretend to be interested back and give me some room to breathe?"
"Would you like to tell me why?"
"I think Kayden is my destined mate." He raked a hand through his unruly brown hair in agitation. "He's too much older than me. He's too good for me, Maitena! He's worked for his station. What the hell have I ever done?"
She contemplated shaking him. "You should be happy that someone as incredible as Kayden is your destined mate. You get to have a guardian and a lover all rolled up in one. Just go jump him and get it over with! I am absolutely not getting in the middle! We've all known all along he was going to be your mate!"
He shot a glare at her. "You're one to talk, you know! We've all known Alexander was your mate! If you'd just hurry up and hit maturity, then you'd figure it out too!"
"You think I'm doing this on purpose?" she shouted at him. She gave him a little shove. "It's killing me! I don't know who or what I am! Nothing I ever do is normal! I love him so much and I can't be with him! You're the idiot who won't take what destiny has given!"
His own temper flared in return. "Maybe you should stop worrying about destiny and stop being stupid yourself! You'd make everyone a lot happier if you'd just jump your damn guardian and be done with it!"
"You don't know anything!" Her temper spiked, and with it came her magic. Shadowy power welled up around her body and slapped Kev so hard that it threw him into the pond. He surfaced and stared at her in shock, and her stomach churned. "Oh god. Oh god. Kev, I'm sorry. I didn't intend . . . didn't mean . . ." She stared at her hands. She had no control. She whirled and ran away as fast as she could.
Kev felt nothing but pain as he watched her flee. Not physically. She hadn't actually done any damage to him. He hurt for her. It was just too damned cruel of destiny and nature, what they were doing to her. He also felt like a complete jerk for lashing out at her the way he had. She hadn't deserved that. He owed her a big apology.
"Stepped in it, didn't you?"
He sighed as he saw Kayden standing on the side of the pond. "Yeah. Apparently being an adult doesn't curb the ability to be an ass to someone who doesn't deserve it." He gingerly made his way to the slippery edge of the pond but sighed again as he couldn't get a grip to pull himself out. "Damn it, I can't get out."
Kayden crouched down. "Good. That gives me a chance to talk to you without you running away. Would you like to tell me what you're so worried about, Kev? Why would you lie to me like that?"
"I don't deserve you."
It was said so softly that Kayden almost missed it. When it registered, he blinked in confusion. Surely he had heard wrong. "Pardon?"
A hint of red climbed Kev's neck. "You're fourteen years older than me. You've worked hard for where you are. You're my hero, Kayden. I haven't done anything at all. I just don't deserve you."
Kayden's sigh was long. "Alexander is twelve years older than Mai, and I believe I just heard you yelling at our favorite princess that she should really give in and jump him."
Kev sank down deeper in the water. His cheeks felt red-hot. "Okay, now I really feel like an idiot. And a hypocrite. Also, I'm freezing."
Kayden bit back a smile as he reached down and lifted his shivering angel out of the pond. "Let's get you inside and warmed up." He started to walk away when a hand grabbed the back of his tunic. "Yes?"
He slowly turned around. "Ask and it's yours, Kev. You know that." Hesitant green eyes slowly lifted to meet his, and the detonation tore through them equally. The fiercest urge to bind Kev's wings to him so he could not fly away filled Kayden. The desire he had long accepted turned into an inferno there could be no ignoring. He saw red power moving through Kev's darkened eyes and felt magic sting the air. He slowly reached out to frame Kev's face with one gentle hand. "I love you," he said softly, firmly. "I have all along. I don't deserve you, Kev Sheridan. No one ever deserves an angel."
Kev took a little breath and then surged up and kissed his guardian the way he had wanted for years. He was a little less than a foot shorter than Kayden, and he absolutely loved it. He loved how safe his guardian could make him feel. The sight of orange Sun power moving through Kayden's beautiful eyes made his entire body clench harder with need. The one he loved most. Wanted most. There was no one else. The sheer joy in his soul was both elating and terrifying. "I love you," he said thickly against Kayden's lips when they parted. "And I'm sorry I'm an idiot."
"I still love you." Kayden carried him along toward the palace. "And you still need to get cleaned up before the party. You're soaking wet and still shivering."
"I'm not convinced the shivering isn't because of you. Also, a lot of the kelp on me is now on you. You're kinda messy too, Kayden. Maybe you should, you know, shower with me."
Kayden's lips curved. "We might be late to your party."
"It's my party. I'm entitled. And Laila will absolutely be late as well. We're angels. Final maturity. I think our parents would be glad for why we were late." He grinned. "I still stand by my earlier statement that Mai will be happier when she gives in to Alexander. Can I go back to yelling at her later? It won't be hypocritical anymore." His guardian just laughed, and he held on contentedly. His hero. Finally his.
Alexander calmly walked through the castle toward the secret rooms that the angels thought they were the only ones to know about. The guardians had always known; they had just always let their angels be alone if they chose to hide there. He would be damned if he let Mai hide from him this time. He had seen the scene from a window, and he would have felt her power anyway.
He found the door hiding behind a tapestry and pushed it open to duck inside. The room beyond was quite small at barely seven feet in length and width. It was not even really a room; it was one of the inevitable pockets of unused space in such a large structure. The Chalice Kingdom had them too. Curled up in a corner, her face buried in her knees, was his angel. She was trying to cry silently, and her entire body shook.
"Butterfly." He walked over and sat down beside her.
"Don't touch me!" she whispered. She hiccupped on the last word. "I could've killed Kev! I don't want to hurt you too!"
"You can't hurt me." He lifted her onto his lap and enfolded her within his arms and cloak. Though she had not formally hit final maturity, she was still fully-grown now. Her body fit into his arms as if she had always belonged. "Here," he murmured. "Better?"
She curled as close as she could to him. She would have crawled into his soul if she could, just to let his beautiful light and dark surrounded her. She knew he was both. She knew his magic covered all elements the way hers did. He was not Shadow, but he was something different. Something truly beautiful to her. The light inside him was what let her see hope, and the dark inside him was what let her rest. She loved him so terribly. If she lost that at final maturity, she would die anyway.
The tears continued to well without stop. She turned her face into his shoulder and let them come. If he held her, she couldn't break. There had to be a reason to her power. She just didn't know what it was. What if she never found control? She might destroy the one thing in her life worth living for: her guardian. She did not have memories without him. He had held her hand for her first steps, and it had been into his arms she had first flown. His name had been her first word. Her everything. He was the biggest part of her existence. She could not risk losing him.
Things seemed to settle down to some extent. Word of the incident had spread across the world, and people began to murmur again about the Shadow Elemine. The speculation this time was far more focused as people wondered if, perhaps, the princess herself was the Shadow Elemine. Only final maturity might bring that answer, and the people prayed for that moment to come for her sake. There was no one who did not know how miserable she and her guardian were as they waited for destiny to confirm what everyone knew.
Mai's twentieth birthday came up, and a banquet was held as normal. It was a relatively small affair for her sake; she had been much more cautious around people lately. Only the two kingdoms and a few select nobles were invited. She did manage to enjoy herself quite a bit, and she proved she was still their Mai by telling Laila, "You have a hickey."
Laila hastily clapped a hand over her neck as she heard everyone, including her parents, laughing. "Damn it, Maitena!" She scowled at her friend. "Why do you always tease me?"
Mai kissed her cheek. "Because of many weird and complicated ways that you are unfortunately related to me and therefore like my little sister." She swung an arm around Laila's waist companionably. "Kev gave Kayden one, too. I intend to embarrass him at the dinner table. You'll be even."
Laila just snorted. There was no way to not love Mai. She kept an arm around Mai's waist in turn as they headed toward the buffet. A strange shade began to creep through the area, and she looked up quickly. "Whoa."
Mai followed her gaze and so did everyone else. Silence fell as everyone realized there was an eclipse occurring. There had not been one of any shape or form for almost exactly twenty years. It was a moment of perfect suspension when light and dark met and melded.
Alyenna looked at her daughter and suddenly paled. "Alexander," she whispered. "Alexander, hurry!"
He was already running across the ground. "Laila! Get away from Mai!"
Shadowy power erupted around Mai as the eclipse settled fully and the Earth entirely blocked the sun. The onslaught of her power broke free with such force that Laila was sent head over heels across the ground. Josh and Kayden managed to catch her, and she shrugged them off. "I'm fine!" The burns across her arm and the scrapes from the fall implied otherwise, but she vehemently shook her head. "What's wrong with Mai?"
The power blazed hotter and hotter and brighter and brighter until a shockwave ripped from Mai's body as she gave a pained cry and Firai crackled into the air around her. Everyone recognized that cry. The sound of angel entering final maturity or Awakening after far, far too long.
"Alex!" Sami grabbed her friend's arm before he could rush in. "She might kill you! She's all elements! She's Shadow!"
"I don't care!" he snarled. He ripped his arm free and plunged past the blazing light to where Mai stood. She collapsed into his arms and clung onto his cloak with desperate strength. She stared up at him for a long moment before her eyes suddenly turned silver. In that moment, even in the shade, her halo burned in a way it never had before.
"Final maturity," Robert managed to whisper. "She reached final maturity." He hastily grabbed Malthus' arm before he could run forward. "Sami's right, Mal! She could kill someone with that much raw elemental power!"
Mai went limp in Alexander's grip, and he knelt down to gently place her on the grass. He wrapped his cloak around her tightly and continued to hold onto her through the waves of elemental power. He weathered the storm calmly and without harm. He did not care if everyone knew he had multi-elemental magic of his own. Nothing was in his world but his angel. She needed him.
When Fire rose, he put it out with the tides of Water. When Air's wind blew too hard, he grounded it with land-based Sand. When the Sun blazed too brightly, he darkened it with the Moon. It then went back the other way. Whatever tore out of her, he was able to tame. Her Shadow power rose at the end, hotly and alarmingly, but he felt a stirring of unusual and new magic inside that would perfectly match. He reached for it without hesitation, and a surge of silvery power swept around him. It met the Shadow and gently enfolded it so that it tamed and calmed without any trouble.
The storm passed as swiftly as it had happened. Though the eclipse remained, the power did not. Mai slipped into a peaceful sleep in Alexander's arms as everyone watched without words. She looked impossibly more beautiful than the others had ever seen her before. She truly transcended beauty itself.
Into the eerie silence, Aya said softly, "Evil comes."
Sami turned quickly and discovered that her angel's eyes had dilated until there was no telling her pupils from her iridescent blue eyes. "Aya." She gently took her shoulders and reached for her through their souls. It would ground Aya and give her the strength to see what her Sight demanded. "What do you see?"
"Evil comes for the one of Shadow." She barely saw her lover. Her eyes were fixed on her cousin. "It knows she lives. The Shadow Elemine. She must awaken. Our world will be destroyed if she does not." She blinked and her eyes went back to normal. "Ooh. My head." She dropped her aching head onto Sami's shoulder. "Mai." Her lips trembled. Why did it have to be Mai?
A soft swirl of light had everyone looking up, and the light formed into the heraldic shield representing the Elemine. "Send her to us," a male voice said. "I am the Moon Elemine. I speak for my brothers and sisters. Send her to us. We can awaken her. Our world will be doomed if she does not." As the light faded, his voice added softer, "I'm sorry."
Alyenna's hands clenched together as she walked forward. "Alexander, take Maitena to her tower. Do not leave her side until she awakes. Bring her to us when she does. Anthony, come with me. We must discuss what this means for our kingdoms." She swept a warning look over the entire area. "Nothing that happened here will leave this garden. All anyone knows is that the princess hit final maturity. Anthony and I will determine what is best for our lands and my child. The rest of you are to go home." She turned toward the castle with her chin held high. Evil would not take her people, and it especially would not take her daughter.
Anthony joined her, and she glanced back to see Alexander carrying Mai away. Silver magic. Of course. It made sense of many things she had always wondered. "Infinity," she murmured.
"Indeed," he said just as softly. "There is a reason for every birth, Aly. I suppose we are now learning what Mai's is." He followed her gaze and added quieter, "And Alexander's as well. But there is a bright side to all this."
"She hit final maturity. They'll be much easier to live with."
She had to smile. He was as incorrigible as his son.