It had been a week. Pyralis had been in that cell for a week. It had certainly been the longest week of his life. They were given food at regular intervals, but it was dry and tasteless. Pyralis longed for the huge meals that he hadn’t appreciated back home. He longed for home in whatever form.
At least he had Kane for company, even though he was currently sleeping. It was probably late, but when Pyralis curled up on his blanket, he couldn’t stop thinking. He couldn’t stop dreading the day when they would come to torture him for information he didn’t have. A chill ran up Pyralis’s spine.
The door to the dungeons opened with a rattle, which was odd. Pyralis didn’t remember anyone coming in over the past few nights, but he might have just been asleep when it happened. There were footsteps on the stone floor. They grew closer and closer, until they came to a stop right outside of Pyralis’s cell. His heart sped up as he curled tighter, pretending to be sleeping.
For a moment, there was nothing. Pyralis risked cracking an eyelid very slightly; the suspense was too much. He saw a figure standing outside the bars, but he had been wrong. The man had stopped in front of the cell next to Pyralis’s and was reaching into Kane’s cell. Pyralis sucked in a breath, and the shaded face of the man turned a fraction of an inch toward him. Pyralis forced himself to calm down.
The man grabbed Kane’s shoulder and shook him awake. Pyralis shifted so that his open eyes were shaded by an arm and watched as Kane jolted awake. The man quieted him with a hand. Kane looked at the man and his eyes went wide. Slowly, his mouth was released.
“What are you doing here?” he hissed.
“I told you I would come, didn’t I?”
Pyralis was suddenly frozen. Cian. That was Cian. Kane knew Cian. Kane could help him.
“Have you talked to the White Queen?” Kane whispered.
Cian shook his head. “I will tomorrow morning. She was far too enthusiastic about killing all of you to ask earlier. I’m hoping it has died down. Hopefully if I come to her with an offering of sorts, she’ll look more favorably upon my alternative plan, which is not killing all of you.”
“What kind of offering?”
“From where?” Kane shot back.
“There was an elf, a spy, who came in with my picture a few days ago. She wants me to get information out of him,” Cian replied.
“A picture of you?” Kane repeated in surprise.
The silhouette of Cian’s head bobbed in a nod. There was a bang in the corridor outside the door. “The guards are coming. I have to go. I don’t want to explain what I’m doing here; she doesn’t know about you and I.”
“Cian-” Cian was already standing, moving away. “Cian, don’t hurt the elf!” Kane hissed loudly.
Cian paused, but then kept walking. Pyralis flushed with gratitude, hoping Cian would take Kane’s request into consideration. After a moment, the door closed and he was gone. Pyralis stared at the floor, trying to comprehend what he had just heard. Of course, he couldn’t let Kane know that he had been eavesdropping, so he couldn’t ask who Cian was, even if everything might depend on it. It was a tricky situation. In the end, Pyralis would have to rely on Kane to come forward and tell him that he knew Cian was one of the people Pyralis was looking for.
And if he did so, Pyralis would know that he could trust Kane. If he could trust Kane, then maybe, just maybe, he would tell him about the Tears of Dawn. Kane could help him, and over the past week they had become friends. Perhaps the future wasn’t quite as bleak as it had once seemed.
But first, there was the matter of Cian “getting information” out of Pyralis the next day. Figuring he would need his energy to endure whatever came, Pyralis closed his eyes again, but sleep never came.
Morning did. And when the morning came, and the harsh lights raised above the cells, Kane sat up. He looked nearly as haggard and exhausted as Pyralis felt. Kane yawned, spurring Pyralis to do the same. He doesn’t know that you know, Pyralis reminded himself.
“Good morning,” Pyralis said easily. “Rough night?”
Kane glanced at him. “You could say so.”
Pyralis stood and stretched, his limbs aching from the hard floor. He tried to force down the panic that welled up inside of him, threatening to overwhelm him. In a few hours, or minutes, Pyralis was going to be interrogated. What would he tell them? He swallowed hard, then leaned against the bars. His stomach rumbled; hopefully their meal of dry bread and water, such as it was, would come soon.
Turning his head slightly, Pyralis found Kane looking at him intently, studying him. He cocked his head and played dumb. “What is it?”
“Pyralis...” Kane hesitated. “I...”
“What’s wrong?” Pyralis prompted, his heart pounding in his chest.
“You said you had a picture of some people who you thought could help you?” Kane asked. Pyralis nodded. “One of them is my brother, Cian Sarmithsa.”
The shock on Pyralis’s face wasn’t an act. Brothers? But Pyralis had seen Cian lead the rebels past them in the hall...Kane had been captured by his own brother? He had expected a shock, but nothing like this. Pyralis opened his mouth, but no words came out.
“It’s okay. You don’t have to say-”
The door across the dungeon slammed open and Cian came striding in, standing tall and regal. Pyralis panicked. In a split second, he decided that he could trust Kane, that Kane was his friend. “Kane, listen, I thought he could help me find a woman who can bring down the White Queen,” he whispered frantically. Cian grew closer. “I need him to help me. There’s a weapon that can take her down, but I need his help. Please, Kane, he’ll never believe me.”
Kane’s eyes were wide. “A weapon-”
Cian was two cells away. “Please!” Pyralis hissed.
Cian stepped over to Pyralis’s cell and began undoing the chains. Pyralis straightened, moving away from Kane. He could hear the blood rushing behind his ears. Kane took a long look at Pyralis before throwing himself to the corner closest to Cian. Cian pretended not to notice him.
“Cian,” Kane whispered, his voice low, but loud enough for Pyralis to hear. Cian didn’t acknowledge that he had heard, but simply lifted the chain from the cell and pulled the door open. “Cian, listen to what he has to say. Trust him. Please.”
Cian gave no outward sign of understanding. He stepped in and grabbed Pyralis’s arm. Pyralis was too stunned to struggle as he was dragged out of the cell. Cian marched him past Kane’s cell and Kane stepped along the bars to follow them. “For me!” he pleaded before they were out of earshot.
Pyralis glanced at Cian’s face, but it was stonily neutral. His heart plummeted. Cian’s grip was impossibly tight as he pulled him out of the dungeon and into the corridor where the stairs led up to the castle above. Instead of going up, Cian led Pyralis down an adjacent hallway. They walked for a few seconds in silence before coming to a stop before a nondescript wooden door. Cian pushed it open. Pyralis gulped.
Inside the room sat a roughly hewn table made of wood. There were two chairs. Nothing else. The stone walls seemed cold and oppressive as Pyralis stepped inside.
“Sit,” Cian ordered, closing the door. Pyralis took a chair, his legs shaking and hunger forgotten.
Now that he was able to get a closer look in good light, Cian was every bit as intimidating as the picture made him out to be. His long choppy hair shaded part of his face, casting a shadow over his eyes. He scowled at Pyralis and towered above him.
“What’s your name?” he asked in a low, smooth voice. It was the type of voice that seemed brimming with ruthless anger, ready to rear its head, but masked by a dangerous silkiness.
“Eighteen,” Pyralis replied. Cian showed no reaction.
“Where are you from?” Cian asked.
This is the man who can help you, Pyralis reminded himself. With a gulp, he replied, “Esmira.”
“Esmira?” Cian echoed with a frown. “Where is that?”
“Through the forest a ways. I don’t know exactly; I’m not familiar with this territory,” Pyralis said.
“Then how did you get here?” Cian asked, playing along.
“I just wandered until I was captured by those two men.”
Cian looked skeptical. “And you have never been to the White Kingdom before?”
“The Black Kingdom?”
“Then explain this picture,” Cian said, pulling out the creased and crumpled sheet of paper with his face on it. Pyralis stayed silent. Cian pulled out the other chair and sat down. He placed his palms flat on the table and leaned forward. “Why did Kane tell me to trust you?”
“Because he trusts me.”
“What did you tell him to get him to trust you?” Cian asked.
Pyralis hesitated. “I can’t tell you.”
“Because I don’t trust you.”
Cian was quiet for a moment. “And what did he tell you to get you to trust him?”
Pyralis locked eyes with Cian. “His story.”
“Ah,” Cian said. “I suppose he painted me as the bad guy?”
“Not at all,” Pyralis replied. “In fact, you were hardly mentioned.”
Cian frowned. After a beat, he said, “Would it help if I told you I was no longer loyal to the White Queen?”
Pyralis answered honestly. “Because anyone can tell me that. The hard part comes with backing it up.”
Cian’s head tilted slightly. “She has sentenced my brother to death. Do you think I would sit by and watch that happen and not feel anything?”
Pyralis’s palms were sweating, but he was an excellent actor. He kept his face confident. “You didn’t seem to care much about being the one to turn him in.”
Without warning, Cian slapped his hand upon the table. “You think I don’t care?” he snapped. “You think I’ve been able to sleep at night with the guilt of knowing Kane was down there because of me?” There was a wildness in Cian’s eyes that made Pyralis flinch. For a second, they were the eyes of a madman. After a moment, he regained control, and the madness was suppressed. Cian straightened. “I apologize. I didn’t know it was Kane whom I was arresting when I did it. I tried to let him escape, but he refused out of honor.”
Pyralis was quiet for a long moment, trying to get a sense of the truth in Cian’s words. “You are really against the White Queen?” Pyralis asked eventually, seeking confirmation.
“Yes,” Cian said firmly. “I swear. She needs to be stopped before she takes over the Black Kingdom. By that point, it’ll be too late.”
Pyralis weighed his options. If Cian was lying, Pyralis would be tortured and probably put to death. If Pyralis didn’t say anything, he would probably be tortured and put to death. His only option, even if it was a long shot, was to tell Cian and hope he was being sincere. After all, he was Kane’s brother, and Pyralis trusted Kane. This was his only chance to fulfill his mission. It was the only option that didn’t lead to death.
Taking a deep breath, Pyralis began. “I told you I was from Esmira. It’s a little city contained by walls, and no one ever leaves. That is, no one except me. I left because I was sent on a mission by the Guardian, one of the founders of the city. He told me of a very important weapon.”
“What kind of weapon?”
“Nobody knows,” Pyralis replied, “but he had been having dreams about one woman in particular. This woman,” he said, flipping the paper to the picture of the dark haired elf. “He called her the Silent One. He said that she would be the key to the weapon, and that she would be needing it very soon. I can only assume she’ll use it to defeat the White Queen.”
“The Black Queen,” Cian muttered.
Eyes widening, Pyralis asked, “Is that who that is?”
Cian nodded, seeming distant. He stared at the picture as he asked, “What does this have to do with me?”
“He drew your picture because he saw you with the Black Queen. He thought you could help me, because you were meant to.” Pyralis paused. “Will you?” he asked slowly, gauging Cian’s reaction.
Cian was still for a very long time. Pyralis watched him closely, but his expression didn’t change. The silence became almost unbearable. “Yes. What do I have to do?”
The Black Queen paced in her glorified cell. She wanted to shout out her frustration, to hit something, or someone. She had been cooped up in that room for months, having tantalizing dreams of freedom which never came true. All the Black Queen wanted was to feel the sun on her face again and to let her people know that she was innocent. She needed them to realize that she didn’t condone any of the behavior of the Black Army. While she was kept out of the loop, the Black Queen had little idea of what was going on within her kingdom’s walls.
What she did know was that it was nothing good.
There was only a sliver of hope remaining in the Black Queen’s life, and that was the man from her dreams. She felt his pull as she slept, felt herself gravitating towards the mysterious man in the gray cloak. They never spoke, never even neared, but she knew he played an important role in what was going on. The Black Queen could only hope that she was rescued soon, for, everything else aside, she would soon go insane otherwise.