“We probably have a few minutes before anyone heads back. The Black Kingdom is probably in chaos,” Cian stated flatly. He picked up a sack and tossed it to the Black Queen. “Find as much food as you can and put it in there. And whatever else looks useful.” She caught the sack, but didn’t move. She mouthed something at Cian, but he didn’t know what she was trying to say. He guessed, “Once we’re safely away from here, I’ll explain what’s been going on.”
That seemed to satisfy her and she moved off. Cian turned to Pyralis who was sitting on a log and looking extremely pale. “Stay there.”
“I was planning on it,” Pyralis muttered as Cian poked his head into the supply tent and grabbed some bandages and salve. He returned to the log by the fire and sat down next to Pyralis.
“Take off your shirt,” Cian said, twisting the lid off of a tin of herbal salve. Pyralis hesitated, but pulled off his shirt, wincing as he did so. Cian looked at the cut in concern. It was fairly deep, about the length of Cian’s hand. The surrounding skin was coated in blood. “Does it hurt?”
“Not terribly,” Pyralis said uncertainly.
Cian raised a skeptical eyebrow, and filled a pot with water from one of the fallen men’s canteens. He hung it over the fire to boil. As they waited, he and Pyralis sat in silence.
“So can the Black Queen not talk?” Pyralis asked eventually.
Cian shook his head. “No.”
“Oh. I guess that’s why she was the Silent One,” he said. After a pause, Pyralis asked, “Can we trust her?”
“Yes,” Cian replied. “She was a good queen before the White Queen took over, I have to admit. I just hope she knows how to work this weapon. She doesn’t seem like the most aggressive of people.”
The water started to boil, so Cian took the pot off of the fire. He dipped one of the bandages in, ignoring the hot water splashing on his hand. Folding the bandage into a square, he dabbed at Pyralis’s side, wiping the blood from around the raw wound. Pyralis hissed, but didn’t pull away. Cian lowered the bloody bandage and picked up the tin of salve. He dipped his finger in the green paste and looked up, “This is going to hurt. A lot.”
Pyralis nodded and steeled himself.
Pyralis couldn’t help the cry that escaped his lips when Cian touched his fingers to the gash. It was like acid on an open wound, which was a particularly accurate description. He gritted his teeth. “What is in that?”
“You don’t want to know,” Cian muttered. “That was only a touch. It’s going to get worse,” he said, picking up another blob on his finger and setting the tin down on the log. “Ready?”
Pyralis nodded. He would stay strong he would stay strong he would stay strong-
“Ah!” he hissed. Pain would pass pain would pass pain would pass- “OW!” he yelled, his fingers searching for something to squeeze until the pain died down. Slowly, it settled into a dull throb, and Pyralis opened his eyes, which were shut so tightly that it hurt, to see Cian looking at him. He looked down at his hand, and found it clutching Cian’s. Pyralis let go immediately and pulled away with a fierce blush. “Sorry.”
Cian didn’t say anything, and his face was set in that infuriating blank mask. Pyralis looked away, feeling exposed. He slung an arm across his chest casually. Cian picked up a roll of gauze bandages and stuck one end to the green salve. Pyralis didn’t even feel it, so it was apparently doing its job. Cian passed the roll of bandages around Pyralis, his arms encircling him momentarily to grab it on the other side. Pyralis stiffened involuntarily, then internally kicked himself.
When he was finished, Cian ripped the bandage from the roll and sat back. “We’ll have to change that every now and then.”
Pyralis nodded. “Thank you,” he said, his voice coming out a tad higher than he would have liked. He slipped his shirt back on, ignoring the cold, sticky blood on the side. Immediately, he felt more comfortable. Nevertheless, he avoided eye contact with Cian as he wrapped up the soiled bandages.
“There are weapons in that blue tent,” Cian told him. “Go grab one for yourself, and one for the Black Queen.”
Pyralis nodded and headed for the tent. Walking no longer pained his side, but he held his arms awkwardly away from his body. Cian was correct; the blue tent held a variety of weapons stacked on tables and laying on the ground. Pyralis moved to the table and picked up an elegantly carved wooden bow. He ran his hand over the surface. The craftsmanship was excellent - at least as good as the bow which they had confiscated from Pyralis. He slung it over his shoulder and chose a leather sheath with a matching leaf design. Stuffing that with as many arrows as would fit, Pyralis set about looking for a weapon for the Black Queen.
Passing a row of swords, Pyralis spied a katana like Cian’s, but wasn’t sure that it was entirely the Black Queen’s style. He settled upon a pair of knives with slightly curved blades and black and silver gilt handles. They looked sharp and deadly, but small enough to be concealed if the Black Queen needed them to be. He took them, grabbed a similar one for himself and left the tent. Outside, Pyralis found her with a loaded sack, waiting by the fire for Cian to return. He offered the knives.
“Are these alright weapons for you?” he asked.
The Black Queen took them, tested them in her hands and scowled. Without warning, she pressed the handles tight to the insides of her wrists and slashed out, slicing the air. Then she straightened and shrugged.
Pyralis looked at her warily. “If you want something else-”
The Black Queen was already striding past him to the weapons tent. Pyralis sighed. When she emerged, she held an enameled black stick, about three quarters of her height. She spun it around in one hand with a movement so natural that it seemed practiced. Well, if she wanted a stick over some sharp metal, Pyralis figured that was okay. He noticed the knives slipped into the silk sash around her waist.
Cian showed up a few minutes later with three horses, their saddlebags already loaded with food and supplies. “Let’s get out of here. They’ve probably thought to check for us here by now, so we don’t have much time.”
Pyralis took the brown stallion, and the Black Queen took the black, leaving Cian with the gray. Kicking his heels into the horse’s side, Pyralis was launched backwards as the horse shot forward. “Woah!” he said, gripping tightly on the reins. They came skidding to a stop, and Cian and the Black Queen rode gracefully up beside him. Cian’s lip twitched.
“Never ridden a horse before?” Cian asked.
Pyralis shook his head. “We only had one horse in the whole town, and we just kept him alive out of pity, he was so old.”
“Only one horse?”
He shrugged. “Esmira was small. It wasn’t an issue.”
The Black Queen rode a little behind Pyralis and Cian as they started off again, not following any particular trail. There was a long silence before Pyralis finally said what he had been holding back all this time, “Cian, I’m sorry about Kane. Really.”
Cian’s jaw clenched and he was silent. He didn’t turn to meet Pyralis’s gaze, but instead looked up at the dappled sunlight filtering through the trees. It seemed like an eternity before he replied, “Thank you. I know he said that he was okay with dying, but...I should have thought about the archers,” he said, shaking his head.
Pyralis scowled. “This isn’t your fault. Don’t you dare blame yourself for this. You tried. You tried really, really hard, and it very nearly worked.”
Cian’s frown deepened.
Not satisfied, Pyralis added, “You still saved me. More than once. Thanks for that.”
With an abrupt nod, the conversation was closed. They rode for a long while in silence.
Naida’s head hurt like hell. It throbbed as she raised her head from the cold stone floor and looked up at... Grayson? She blinked, but it was really him, looming above her. The door behind him was open, but the room was empty. The elf was no where in sight, and neither was the Black Knight.
“Naida get up,” he said. “There are guards coming around the corner any second. You need to move.”
“What are you-”
Naida scrambled to her feet and followed Grayson the corridor. “How’d you get here?”
“Not important,” he said, taking a quick turn. “Keep close.”
The pounding of her feet brought fresh pain to her head, and she felt it blossom behind her eyes. Naida forced it down. She had to get out of here. She had to catch up with the knight and the elf before they got very far. Idly, Naida wondered who it was that hit her. Maybe a guard. Grayson came to an abrupt stop. “There’s a guard down the next corridor,” he said, without looking around the corner. “You’re going to have to take him out.”
Naida nodded bravely and raised her mace. She peeked around the corner and saw a guard walking her way. He must have seen her there, for he stopped and drew his sword. Naida didn’t have time for anything fancy. She ran forward, blocked his sword strike with her mace and stomped on his foot. He gasped in pain and Naida kneed him in the crotch. He went down.
Glancing back, Naida found Grayson right behind her, running forward. “Left up here.”
She ran and skidded around the turn, adrenaline pumping. Grayson pounded along beside her. “This door up here. Go through it; you’ll find yourself outside. You can take it from there.”
Grayson stopped in front of the door, and Naida looked at him. “Aren’t you coming?” she asked.
He shook his head sadly. “I can’t. Go on. Hurry, before anyone sees you.”
“But how will you get out?” Naida asked worriedly.
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be just fine. Go!”
“But your mace-” she said.
“Naida! If you don’t go now, you won’t get out of here,” he said urgently. “Run! I’ll be fine. It’s been fun training with you.”
Naida hesitated, then wretched the door open. “Thank you,” she said as she ran out into the open.
Naida found herself in the courtyard, separated from the forest by a small field. She looked out at the forest’s edge and saw a steady stream of men in black marching into the trees. With no other leads about where the elf and the knight had gone, she followed.
“We stop here for the night,” Cian announced decisively as they came to a stop near a little stream. It was nearly dark, and Pyralis was glad for the break. His legs were sore and his side had begun aching again about an hour ago. Whatever that salve was, it had helped for a good while. “Pyralis, would you gather some sticks?”
Pyralis dismounted and set about picking up dry twigs and small branches. He cleared a spot in the dirt with his foot and piled the wood up on the ground. “How are we going to light it?”
Cian clasped his hands together and a look of concentration stole over his face. Slowly, he opened his hands and a tiny flame sat in his palm. He lowered it down to the pile of sticks, pulling back when one caught. Shaking his hand, the fire went out. Pyralis and the Black Queen were both watching him intently. “You’re magic?”
“Just a trick I learned when I was young,” he said dismissively. “I can’t do anything else.”
“Oh,” Pyralis replied. “Don’t worry, I can’t do much either.”
“You have magic?” Cian asked in surprise.
With a shrug, Pyralis said, “Sort of. I have elf magic, but you need to know the spells and enchantments in elvish. I didn’t have time to learn them all, and I pretty much only remember the fun ones.”
Cian nodded, watching the fire grow. His eyes were distant, so Pyralis didn’t push the conversation to continue. The Black Queen looked unhappy.
“Want some bread?” Pyralis asked, offering her a piece he’d ripped off of the loaf out of the saddlebag of his horse. She took it with a nod of thanks. Pyralis offered one to Cian, but he ignored it. With a shrug, Pyralis bit into it himself. Cian stood abruptly.
“I’ll take first watch,” he offered, and moved away, sitting near the edge of their little camp with his back to them.
The Black Queen scowled and tugged on Pyralis’s sleeve. Mouth full of bread, he looked at her as she mouthed something that seemed like, “Explain.”
Pyralis swallowed in a gulp and said, “Oh, right. Well, I guess I better start from the beginning, then?”
She nodded and settled back, taking a bite of bread.
“I lived in a city called Esmira which was isolated from this world. No one left the castle walls, no one even knew that anything existed outside of them. Someone lived in the highest tower of the castle and never left - we called him the Guardian. No one knew why he stayed up there, or who he was. One day, I got bored. I was sick of being cooped up in the city, so I thought I’d go up to the tower and see if he’d let me look over the walls from up there.
“As it turned out, the Guardian was pretty nice. He told me some things. Let me look beyond the walls,” Pyralis said, a bit guarded. “The point is that he gave me a mission. He told me that he saw you in his dreams,” he told the Black Queen. “He said that you never spoke, but you were always reaching for him. He thought you would need a weapon that he had, a weapon he called the Tears of Dawn. Have you heard of it?”
She shook her head. Pyralis pulled his necklace out of his shirt. “He gave me this ring; he thought you might have one to match it, but I guess you don’t. Inside is inscribed, ‘The tears of dawn long...’ and that’s it.” The Black Queen looked at it and shook her head again. Pyralis tucked it back inside his shirt. “Well, regardless, he told me to bring you to him, so that he can give you the weapon, whatever it is. The Guardian seems to think that it’ll all become clear when you get there.”
The Black Queen nodded to Cian, then tilted her head in question. Pyralis lowered his voice so he couldn’t be heard, even though he suspected that Cian was too far in brooding to pay attention anyway.
“The Guardian saw him in the vision with you. He thought Cian could help me, and he did. But...uh, he just lost his brother. Just before we rescued you. He’s feeling pretty guilty about that, I think,” Pyralis explained. The Black Queen frowned, looking at him with concern. Pyralis’s own heart was heavy now that he finally had a moment to mourn Kane. They had only known each other for a little over a week, but Kane had quickly become a good friend to Pyralis. If he had survived, there was no telling what might have happened.
Pyralis looked over at Cian, his eyebrows knitting together in concern. Maybe he should go comfort him, or at least try. Before Pyralis could decide one way or another, the Black Queen grabbed his hand. He looked over and she shook her head. Pyralis took her advice.
He let Cian mourn in peace.