The Queen was sick.
All SkyWings in the entire kingdom knew it, and news even reached the prisoners in their sky high prisons. Ruby had ruled for far longer than any ruler in recorded history, about three generations, so it was no new fact that she would die sooner or later. Despite the IceWing Animus's help, she couldn't live forever.
However, every single dragon in the court had believed it would be of old age, as she had never been ill a single day in her life. And what had concerned them all the most was that she had no heirs, male or female.
This obviously meant she'd have a longer lifespan, as heirs were required to kill their mothers to take the throne, but she had no children, none at all. Which left one burning question in the minds of all in the kingdom: how would the new Queen be decided?
The court huddled around the dying queen's bed, all murmuring, many hiding tears. At that moment, the advisor burst into the room.
Ruby didn't need an advisor, it wasn't like she'd ever take advice from another dragon, ever. Advisor was more of a glorified way of declaring to everyone, 'This Dragon is the Queen's best friend.'
"Ruby," muttered the advisor, tears in the elderly dragon's eyes. "Oh, Ruby my oldest friend... how could this happen?" Tears filled his eyes as she looked up, fear and pain in her eyes. "Eagle?" She rasped, "is that you?"
Eagle choked on a tear as he mustered a pain-filled "yes." Ruby smiled, despite her overwhelming pain. Eagle felt relief wash over him. She wasn't too weak to speak, he realised, just waking up. "Eagle... Eagle, it really is you, isn't it? Oh, geez, I'll miss you in the afterlife. You're such a good dragon, you know?"
Eagle suddenly felt outrage towards the Queen. "What? No! Don't give up hope yet, it's... it's not over..."
"Yes it is, Eagle. It is. I feel myself sinking away, and I've accepted it. It will be peaceful, yes, and I want you and the rest of the kingdom to know that you'll be forever in my heart."
Eagle couldn't hold it in any more. He began crying, slowly and sadly, until Ruby began talking again, this time with her eyes closed.
"I suppose you want to know how to find the new queen. I want there to be a contest. In the arena. Whoever wins will become Queen. It is open to all SkyWings in the kingdom. And I want no one to kill each other, just... whoever gets the first in a deadlock..." her breathing became ragged and torn as she slipped away. "No, Ruby, keep with me. Answer my final question, please!" He was bawling heavily, blue crystals of water dripping down his snout, landing on Ruby's scales. She winced at the impact.
"How about Dreamkiller, Lyrebird and... Topaz?" He listed the three female SkyWing prisoners they had. "Can they go for Queen?"
She smiled, eyes still closed, breathing more rugged than ever. "I said all females, didn't I?" Eagle nodded, the advisor leaning closer to his friend.
"You are the best friend a dragon could wish for. You will have a special place in Heaven with me, I promise." Ruby's eyes cracked open, then rolled to the back of her head. "I feel... my time is coming... goodbye now..."
And with that, she was gone.
Eagle bent his head over her frail body and cried. He cried for who knows how long, until the sun slipped below the horizon, glowing as bright as Ruby used to when she was a dragonet. His heartbreak was immeasurable. Now he'd have to live for much longer, thanks to the IceWing's spell, and all without his best friend. He swore in that moment that he'd make sure she'd have the heir she wanted, one who could defeat all others, enemies or friends. One she could be proud of.
He looked up at the rest of the court and told them to spread the news, sending the one messenger present to release the prisoners and tell them what was happening. With a nod, the messenger flew out.
The messenger passed over the rest of the SkyWing kingdom, noticing a bunch of concerned looking SkyWings huddling around the door of the palace. He fought the lump of guilt in the back of his throat. They were all holding onto the faint hope that their queen might still be alive, and he had to pass over without telling them.
He spiralled higher into the sky, beating his wings against the air, watching the faces of SkyWings disappear below him as he sped upwards. The arena soon came into view, followed by the prisoner Dragons.
He first flew over to Dreamkiller, the giant yellow dragon perched rather awkwardly on a small platform. He released her from her bindings and explained the situation. She gave him a growl and flew away, hollering "I'm gonna be queen," followed by words the messenger wished she hadn't spoken.
He repeated the process with Lyrebird, the sweet vermillion dragon flying away, shouting words of gratitude to the messenger. As he sped over to Topaz, he had a realisation.
She can't be queen, he thought, she's only a dragonet. Then again... he paused midair, hovering somewhere between Topaz and a SeaWing. Tourmaline did say every single female... it was as she requested. Very well.
He took in a deep breath and went forward, to the dragonet Topaz. He was wary, as she had been accused of murder, but he was a witness and he swore it was someone else. He shrugged his sinking feeling off and flew in to help her out of her chains.