It’s amazing how many little things we take for granted. The air we breathe, our hearts beating in a steady rhythm, the feel of a lover’s gentle touch. Those are all things that I took for granted for so long. At first it was because I was young and I thought I was invincible. Then, later, I took it for granted because I’d just fallen in love. I’d just found my mate, and I didn’t think that fate would be so cruel as to separate us so soon after finding each other. But then Phoenix was stolen from me. If it weren’t for the Ancient blood flowing through my veins, and the fact that we had a young daughter, I would have followed him into the dark. Every moment after my mate’s death was a struggle for air. A struggle to keep my heart beating in a semi-normal rhythm. It was a battle just to get up in the mornings and take care of everything I was responsible for. Never again will I take those things for granted. Not after everything I’ve seen, been through, and come back from. The vast majority of you have no idea who I am. For some of you I’m just a statue overlooking Graymark Castle. There are very few alive now who actually know who I am. Even fewer who’ve actually met me and know me as a person. This introduction is for those of you who don’t know me and want to. My name is Lexi McAllister. Before I found my mate my surname was Khylen. I was the first child of two for Selene and Samuel Khylen. Although I wasn’t born to them. My younger sister, Jaimie, was my best friend throughout my life. We were close in age and inseparable as children and young adults. My second closest friend was a guy by the name of Griffin Ramsey. The three of us grew up together, and we were completely inseparable until well into adulthood. It’s ironic that one of my best friends would be the harbinger of my worst days. Last, but not least, is Phoenix McAllister – my mate. Together we brought a beautiful daughter into the world, Lourdes. This story that you’re about to get is not just about my life, but our lives. As entangled as they were, I can’t give you my story without including them. You might want to sit back, get a drink, and be prepared for a long story. I’ve lived quite a long life. The beginning is always important. You can’t have a story without a beginning. For me it began with a pair of Ancients known as The Siren and Chimera. I don’t know their actual names. That was never revealed to me. I only know them by their sigils. They were a mated pair who looked over one of the planets close to the Kalaris system. I imagine they were happy when they discovered they were having a baby. Or maybe they were terrified. There was a war raging in the cosmos and they were just barely surviving it. It’s for that reason that I don’t know a whole lot about my biological parents. All I can tell you is that entropy was claiming them. It was winning out in that part of the universe. My mother survived just long enough to bring me into the world. She didn’t even get to hear my first cries before her life was claimed by entropy. My father, desperate to save my life, managed to hold on long enough to flee his system and take me to the planet Altear, where the Wingriders lived. I don’t know how he chose the Khylen family, all I know is that I was given to them with the understanding that I wouldn’t know the truth about my origins until my parents died. I guess my father felt that was the only way to keep me safe from entropy. My adoptive parents named me. And they raised me from just a few hours old until I was old enough to venture out on my own. Most of the time I wouldn’t bother telling anyone about the very early years of my life. In general there usually isn’t enough to talk about to make it worthwhile. But for me there are a few things that make it worth the telling. I was very different from Earth children in the way that I developed. Earth children usually develop from the head down. I was completely opposite. By the time I was six months old my parents were having a hard time keeping me out of trouble. I was on my feet and mobile. My parents were amazed at how fast I could run before I was even a year old. And I was very intelligent. By the time I was two years old I was playing chess with my father. I knew which each piece was, and I knew how it moved. By the time I was three years old, I was beating my father regularly in chess. It’s about then that my younger sister came into the picture. I was just barely past my third birthday when Jaimie was born. And from the moment I saw her, I knew that I had to take care of her. It was my job to be a good big sister to her. I took that job very seriously. Although I will admit to being disappointed when she wouldn’t play with me right away. It took her nine months to get mobile, but then we were two terrors that my parents loved to watch. Like most Wingrider children, I wasn’t able to talk until much later in my early years. Most Wingrider children start to talk when they’re about three years old. Shortly after that third birthday they’re speaking in full sentences without any of that baby speak that Earth children use. For me, I was almost five before I started talking. My parents were starting to get very concerned that I might not ever be able to talk. But, before they could take me into a doctor for a full workup, I started talking their ears off. I’d learned a lot in five years, and I was excited to talk to my parents about everything that I’d learned and always wanted to discuss with them. It was also during my fifth year that I met Griffin. His family moved into my town from quite a distance away, and he was new to my school. We became friends very quickly. I was a tomboy, and Griffin enjoyed having a female friend who could do all the things that he liked to do – climbing trees, swimming in the ponds and lakes, hunting and fishing… They were all things that I enjoyed and he did, too. It was like we were made to be together. Obviously Griffin held onto that belief long after it should have been let go. I’m not going to tell you everything about my childhood. It would get boring way too fast. But I will tell you a few things that impacted my life in one way or another. One of my first loves as a young child was music. My mother taught me a variety of instruments from a very young age. I took to music like a fish takes to water. And once I was able to speak, I took to singing. My parents discovered that I loved to sing and decided to nurture that talent as much as they nurtured my love of music. I was sent to vocal coaches to learn how to train my voice. Maybe they thought one day I’d have my own band or something, I don’t know, but that was a big part of my life throughout my young years and even into my teenage and adult years. The next thing you should know is that Jaimie loved the same things I did right from the very beginning. It might have been hero worship at first. I hear a lot of younger siblings get that. But over time it became a passion for her just like it was for me. We loved the festivals that happened several times a year on our planet. We’d take the stage and entertain everyone with our voices and musical abilities. Those were really good times. And then there was Griffin. I never fancied myself in love with him, because I knew that the bond wasn’t in place with us. But if I could have chosen a mate for myself at that point, it would have been him. He was my first kiss. He was my first lover. I think that’s what got Phoenix killed. Griffin just couldn’t let go of those times. No one knows how much I blame myself for my mate’s death. Wingrider children grow up slower than human children do. We’re such a long lived race that we stay with our parents well beyond the age of 18. In fact, you’re not really considered and adult until you’re almost in triple digits. I stayed with my parents until I was almost 90 years old. Then I got a calling that no one in my family ever expected. I joined the Guard. For those of you who don’t know what the Guard is, it’s the Wingrider version of the military. My parents asked me many times why I’d want to put my life in danger by joining the ranks. My answer was always the same – “Someone has to make sure that you guys are always safe.” I took my family’s protection very seriously. I wanted to make sure that nothing ever happened to them. Aside from Griffin, they were the only things I had in the world to hold onto. When I joined the Guard, Griffin came along with me. He said he wasn’t about to let me defend the planet without him guarding my back. He claimed that I needed to be as protected as my family was. I was always grateful for Griffin being there with me. Especially when the Second War broke out with Iconia. The Second War with Iconia was a terribly long and drawn out one. It lasted more than 700 years. A lot happened during those centuries of war. The first thing is that I was promoted to the ranks of the Vanguard. It was a special ops division of the military elite. I became one of the Generals in our battle for freedom against Iconia. The next thing that happened was that I met Phoenix. There’s a lot that happened between when I met Phoenix about 350 years into the war and the end of the war. But I can still remember when our eyes met for the very first time. Griffin was by my side talking to me, but my dark eyes met Phoenix’s baby blues, and it was like the whole war faded into the background around us. I know that Griffin saw it the moment it happened. And I’m certain that he was green with envy and so consumed with jealousy that he couldn’t see straight. Phoenix and I had our first kiss on the battlefield. He took Griffin’s place protecting my back, and I protected his. It was like everything in my life finally fell into place when I met Phoenix. I even got pregnant during the war. It was far from a planned event. But battle lust being what it is, it was probably unavoidable. Once we realized that I was pregnant, Phoenix and I both took leave from the Vanguard for the duration of my pregnancy and for a while afterwards. That was towards the end of the war. Everyone was so tired of fighting, and we had a chance to bring new life into the world. Phoenix built our dream house and that’s where our daughter, Lourdes, was born. The seven month pregnancy went amazingly fast despite how excited I was about having my first child with Phoenix. We were planning a whole house full of children if we could manage it. Lourdes was a beautiful baby when she was born. She was typically sized for a Wingrider child, but she had the most gorgeous dark eyes and a cap of dark hair on her head. She also had Phoenix’s skin tone. Mine’s a little darker. But she was beautiful and everything that I could have wanted. Everything that we could have wanted. Our happiness lasted for about four years. Then Phoenix went back to the war. It was nearing its end, and they needed him to help win victory for Altear. I hated staying home with Lourdes while my mate was out fighting in a war. I wanted to be at his back protecting him, but Griffin promised that he’d look out for Phoenix. He promised that he’d keep my mate’s back safe. I never should have trusted Griffin. But he was one of my best friends. I never expected betrayal from him. I can still recall every agonizing moment when I lost Phoenix in the war. I was at home with Lourdes when I felt him get stabbed in the back. I remember his last thoughts as he hit the ground. As I hit the ground. As a mated pair, I should have gone with him when he died. I should have followed him into the darkness. I couldn’t, though. I had to take care of Lourdes. I had to survive so that Phoenix wouldn’t be forgotten. For a brief second I saw what Phoenix did as he died. I saw Griffin standing over my mate with a bloody sword, and in that moment both Phoenix and I knew that Griffin was the one who’d stabbed my mate in the back. I don’t remember much after that for quite a while. I know that I blacked out as Phoenix’s soul left his body. I remember waking up to Jaimie shaking me and her worried expression gazing down at me. And I remember curling into a ball and sobbing over the loss of my mate. The funeral and everything after that are more than a blur. And despite what I knew, we were never able to prove that Griffin was the one who killed Phoenix. The chaos of the battlefield protected him and prevented me from getting justice for my mate. Surviving the death of one’s mate is more than just difficult. It’s nearly impossible to do for very long without going insane. I didn’t know how I’d managed to hold on after losing Phoenix, or how I managed not to go insane. It wasn’t until my mother was on her deathbed that I found out why I was able to hang on. As I sat next to my mother’s side, holding her hand as she lay dying, she told me about how I’d come into their family. She told me everything that she knew so that I would know where I came from. It was hard to hear, but that was when I knew how I’d managed to survive. I was an Ancient and Ancients are made of more durable stuff than the general population. After my mother’s death, I went back home to continue raising my daughter – the only one that I’d ever have a chance to have with Phoenix. Lourdes grew up much faster than I would have liked. It seemed like she’d grown from a child to adult in just a few blinks of the eye. Pretty soon she was moving out and finding her mate. I was happy for her when she came home with Derrek. He was a good man, and he was going to make her very happy for a very long time. I stayed on Altear and watched as they began to have a family. I doted on my grandchildren and the great grandchildren. It wasn’t until Lourdes was about 3,000 years old that I finally ventured out to find out where I came from. I had questions with no answers. I just didn’t know that I’d run into my own end while I was searching for my answers. I didn’t know that entropy was hunting me even as I hunted for information about my biological family. I don’t remember how I died. I remember my last thought being something along the lines of, “Now I’ll never see Phoenix again,” and I remember the twisting agony that the thought brought. But that’s all I remember. There was nothing but blackness after that until 2012 when I was awoken on a table in a lab. The bright lights in the lab shot daggers through my eyes and directly into my brain. It was incapacitating. I couldn’t think, I was confused because I didn’t know where I was. There were people surrounding me who spoke a language that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend. There was bliss when the daggers in my brain caused me to black out into darkness again. Although the darkness wouldn’t last very long. I think I was in the lab for a couple weeks before Phoenix found me. Time is a blur when you’re stuck in a routine that never changes. Get up in the morning, eat the slop they give for breakfast, spend your day being tested, poked, and prodded, eat more slop for supper, and then sleep. That was my routine for a couple weeks. I didn’t know what they were trying to accomplish. No one could tell me why they brought me back. There was a definite language barrier, not that they would have told me anyway. Then, one day while I was strapped to a table being poked and prodded, Phoenix broke into the lab and rescued me. Seeing my mate for the first time in millennia should have been euphoric, but I was doped so high that I couldn’t even register who he was. It took several hours for my system to work the drugs out of it. We were back in the Wingrider community in Canada before I really realized that Phoenix was alive and next to me. Then I was euphoric. I never thought I’d see him again. That feeling didn’t last for long before confusion and fear set in. We were two of many who’d been brought back from the dead by scientists who were playing God. We could only guess at what their motives were. Even now, while we think we know what they were trying, we’re not entirely sure. And there are still labs out there, creating Wingriders and bringing others back from the dead. It really hasn’t been long since Phoenix and I were brought back. Just long enough for us to start getting a grasp on this planet and its language. The Wingrider community is in Canada, Calgary to be exact. It’s our safe haven from the world, and we tend not to leave very often. Although it is good that we decided to leave a couple weeks ago when another’s mate was in trouble. Phoenix and I found ourselves in Baltimore, Maryland with a group of other Wingrider guards and doctors. It was there that we met Keylie. Her story is complex and dark, but the basic gist is that she was our child in another universe. Phoenix and I had both survived beyond the war, and we’d had a second child. But when entropy came to destroy the universe, Keylie was sent here to save her life. Obviously Phoenix and I in this universe couldn’t raise Keylie. We were dead until just a short time ago. But as soon as we met her, we felt that parent/child connection that all Wingriders parents have with their children. Even though Keylie is 25 years old, she’s living with us now. She’s still a baby compared to the rest of us. And we’re taking the opportunity to offer her what she’s never had before – parents who love and cherish her. We got another couple surprises less than a week after getting home with Keylie. Another BioTech lab was raided by our people. We’ve been systematically shutting down the labs and releasing the Wingriders that have been trapped in them. Jaimie and her mate were among the Wingriders released from this raid, and we were also presented with two children – one four years old, and the other only two months old. We knew very little about either child, except that they’re both ours. Our four year old daughter didn’t have a name when she came to us. We let her help pick out her new name. We all decided on Parker. The three of us then decided on Logan for our two month old son. I’ve always wanted a large family with several children. I just wasn’t expecting that it’d all be handed to me at once. I won’t get into how violated I feel about the whole deal. I’d rather focus on the good things. We have a family now that’s ours. I have my sister back, and life is going to be good now. Now we’ve caught you up to current time. Even though I hate this planet with a passion, I know that we’ll never go back to Altear. At least, not to stay. We may go to officially adopt Keylie, but if we do, it’ll be a short visit. As I said, we’re statues guarding Graymark Castle. We’re not meant to be in these times, so going back would be a bad idea. Whether or not we like it, this has to be home now. A lot of our friends were brought back from the dead, too, so we’re not alone here. I can’t really ask for more than that. I don’t know what is to come in the future. All I know is that I’m taking it one day at a time – one moment at a time. Anything more than that is overwhelming. I’ll be okay just so long as I’m never separated from Phoenix again. I pray history doesn’t repeat itself.