Pyralis let his food get cold on his plate. It was no longer appealing. He was looking down at his hands but could feel his father’s weighty stare upon him. Pyralis saw his mother glance back and forth between them. She tried to delay the inevitable by saying conversationally, “So Sir Cian’s girlfriend seems nice, although a little…unrefined.”
“She’s not his girlfriend,” Pyralis snapped without thinking. He shut his mouth. With a sigh, he gave in to what was hanging over them all. “I can’t believe you told everyone I was dead.”
“It was the only way. After all, we didn’t know what you were,” Hiram said. “You might have been dead.”
Pyralis felt his cheeks heat up. “So you pretended I was dead. What, did you bury an empty coffin? Were you just going to move on and forget about me? Pretend I really had died?” he demanded, his voice cracking.
Hiram slapped his hand on the table, getting angry now. “Remember, Pyralis, you were the one who ran away! You didn’t even say goodbye,” he growled.
“That’s because I knew you would have tried to stop me!” Pyralis shouted.
“And for good reason-“
“I had a good reason-“ Pyralis tried to interrupt.
“You are an insolent, foolish boy!” Hiram shouted. “You know nothing. Nothing. You should never have left our walls without permission, or at all.” Pyralis shook with silent anger. “You are a disgrace to the family name.”
“Hiram-“ Silvia tried.
“Quiet, Silvia,” he snapped. Hiram was staring at Pyralis, waiting for a response. “Well? Do you admit that you were out of line?”
Pyralis clenched his jaw. His hands were shaking, but his voice came out steady. “No.”
“No,” he repeated. “I did the right thing. I learned to think for myself; I went where no one else would-“
“Where no one else shoul-“
“Let me finish!” Pyralis cried. Hiram’s eyes flashed with anger, but he didn’t stop Pyralis. “I learned the truth that you’d been hiding from me all my life. I saw that someone had to be brave enough to leave and do what needed to be done, and there was no one else but me. I didn’t run away. I left. I left because someone else needed me, and I put them before myself, before Esmira, and, yes, even before you,” he spat. “Because I knew how you’d react. Like this. And then where would we be? Where would the rest of the world outside of your damned little bubble of safety be?”
Hiram opened his mouth to speak, seething, but Pyralis gave him no opportunity. “Esmira is all that matters to you, isn’t it? Because these people worship you. They look to you for leadership, they respect you. You don’t care about the rest of the world,” he ranted, “because in the rest of the world, you’re insignificant. If the walls were torn down and the people of Esmira saw what was out there, they’d lose their respect for you. You’d lose your power. And you’d rather see the outside world crumble to pieces than see Esmira fall, wouldn’t you?”
Pyralis couldn’t believe those words had just come out of his mouth. He and his father glared at each other in silence. Hiram broke first. In a voice filled with pure anger, he pointed to the door, roaring, “GET OUT!”
His legs numb, Pyralis stood, kicking the chair with his foot. He bowed mockingly to his father. “Gladly, sir.”
Pyralis almost missed the tears on his mother’s cheeks as he stormed from the room. The moment the doors closed, he slumped to the floor and cried.
Cian was exhausted, and yet he couldn’t sleep. There were simply too many things cluttering up his mind. In just a few days, he would be off again, fighting a battle that he knew he couldn’t win. The White Queen and Nyx, the Black Queen for all intents and purposes, both had armies. Cian had himself, an elf whom he was reluctant to put in harm’s way, and possibly an untrained girl, if he could come to terms with letting her help. Some army.
Rolling over, Cian’s thoughts went on a tangent. Cian couldn’t answer Naida earlier because he really had no idea what they were going to do about Triston. If he wanted to come with them, to help…Cian wasn’t sure he could handle that. His presence would make the entire party uncomfortable. And yet, what if his involvement was what would determine their success? Cian thought to himself. Triston was old, though he didn't look it, and who knew what kind of knowledge he harbored. He could make a huge difference, or he could tear them apart.
At any rate, Cian knew that he couldn’t let the queens recruit Triston, not that he thought he would join them. Against the three of them together, Cian would have no chance. As it was, he might not be able to beat just the two women. He sighed and buried his face in his pillow, trying hard to sleep.
Sleep simply wouldn’t come. Cian’s senses were still alert when he heard a muffled noise. It sounded like cloth sliding against wood, and stopped after a moment. After a few seconds of silence, there was another unidentifiable sound. With a frown, Cian pushed himself up and padded to the door. The cool air stung his bare arms, which were left uncovered by his loose shirt and pants. Rubbing the tiredness from his eyes, Cian pulled the door open. At first glance, there didn’t seem to be anyone there.
Then, a sniffle sounded from the floor. Cian looked down and blinked uncomprehendingly at the figure which he found there. “Pyralis?” he asked.
A sob raked Pyralis’s body. Cian knelt down and gathered him up by the shoulders. He hadn’t realized how light Pyralis was until he led him inside, supporting most of his weight. Propping him up against the headboard, Cian at on the edge of the bed. Pyralis looked over at him with red-rimmed eyes. “Pyralis, are you alright?” he asked in concern. “What’s wrong?”
Pyralis sniffed, wiping at his tears.
“Your parents?” Cian prompted.
He responded with a nod. “I-I can’t stay here, Cian.” Pyralis shook his head. “I can’t.”
“But Pyralis, you’re safe he-“
Pyralis looked at Cian with clear, pained eyes. “I’m coming with you.”
“Please, Cian. I’m coming with you,” he said again.
Cian studied him. Pyralis looked to be being serious, and Cian couldn’t bear to force him into staying if he truly didn’t want to. Forcing things was one of the main reasons that Kane was driven away. Cian wouldn’t do that again. “Okay,” he said softly, patting Pyralis on the arm. “Okay. I’m glad to have you.”
Pyralis matched Cian’s smile with a watery one of his own. He whispered, “Thank you.”
In that moment, Cian saw just how fragile Pyralis was. Up until now, he was usually flippant, but determined and strong. Pyralis had been the one to keep Cian together after Kane’s death. Now, it was the other way around. It was Cian’s turn to keep Pyralis together, and he would do his best. After all, there was no one Cian would rather have at his side when they went up against the two spawns of evil. He would do anything in his power to keep Pyralis safe.
Nyx was loving her freedom. She made it back to the Black Castle in only a few minutes through magic, but such a huge feat was draining. It had taken her a day and a half to recover, but it was worth it. Now striding towards the White Queen’s throne room, resplendent in a beautiful black gown and leather corset, Nyx was ready for battle. She had arrived in the White Kingdom just a little while ago, riding on her favorite stallion. Finally, things were going her way.
A few White Knights eyed her as she walked past, their hands gravitating towards their weapons. Nyx laughed and flashed them gleaming smiles. She poured some magic into her charm and waved delicately. They softened and let her pass without a word.
It was almost too easy.
Nyx flicked her hand and the doors to the throne room burst inwards. The White Queen stood facing the window, but whipped around, startled by the bang. “Desiree. How nice to see you.”
The White Queen’s eyes widened. “Wha- How did you…?”
Nyx grinned calmly, tilting her head in what she judged to be a smug manner. “Surprised to see me talking?” she asked. “I’d wager you’ll also be surprised to see me do this,” Nyx said, forming her hand into a claw and snapping her palm back. Three daggers of compressed air shot towards Desiree. She stumbled back and waved a hand at the very last second, and they shattered.
Nyx pouted. “Aw, you couldn’t have let just one hit you?”
“How was the curse lifted? I cast it myself,” Desiree said, her eyes narrowing.
“Yes, you never could admit that I was stronger than you,” Nyx said. She spread her arms welcomingly. “Go on, try and attack me. I know you won’t.”
The White Queen frowned. “Why won’t I?”
“Because you know you can’t beat me,” Nyx said with a shrug. She paced in a half circle around Desiree. “Lucky for you, I’m not here to kill you. I do quite fancy the idea of making you hurt, but I’ve cooled on that notion,” she said. Pouting slightly she said, “You would have found me to be a quite forgiving person, if you’d have given me the chance. But no, you just cursed me.” Nyx stepped closer, her black lips next to Desiree’s ear. “But no. You cursed me.”
Desiree was as still as a statue. Nyx could smell her fear and it was tantalizing. “But I won’t hurt you, at least not now. Actually, if you accept my offer, I’ll forgive you.”
“What’s your offer?” the White Queen said sharply.
“Join me. I run the Black Kingdom, you run the White - under my supervision of course. Together, with both of our armies, we can find Cian and crush the will out of him,” Nyx said with relish.
“Cian?” Desiree asked in confusion.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” Nyx asked in mock surprise. “He’s had his magic unlocked and has become both the greatest weapon and greatest threat of our time, apparently. Personally, I think that’s an over-exaggeration,” she said with a shrug. “Regardless, with both of our magic, we can wipe his memory and he’ll be our weapon at last.” Nyx stepped back, turning up her palms. “Well, do you accept?”
Finally, Desiree showed a smile of her own. “Of course.”
Nyx grinned in return. Together, they would destroy Cian. They would steal his memories, sure, but first, they would steal his will to fight. With his spirit crushed, he would be that much easier to conquer. Nyx had been with Cian long enough to know a thing or two about him. It was obvious that Cian had few weaknesses, but those that he did have were debilitating. And Cian’s primary weakness was his feelings, his attachments, his loyalty. It was clear what their first move was.
In order to get Cian, they would have to go after Pyralis. Nyx grinned. This was bound to be interesting.