“Tell me,” Pyralis said.
“Years go, when I was first placed here, there was a prophecy made. I was only told what I needed to know, for my own protection, apparently. One day, they said, the weapon that I was to guard would be needed by someone. Until that day, I was to guard it, to protect it, and to keep it a secret,” the Guardian said, voice distant. “But I’m telling you because I need your help.”
Pyralis was shocked silent for a second. “What kind of weapon?”
“Uh...I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
The Guardian gave a little shrug. “No. Privileged information, I suppose. They just told me that if I didn’t leave the tower, I’d be doing my job. That’s why I never leave.”
“And who needs it?”
“I don’t know that either. Well, not exactly.”
“This all seems very vague.”
The Guardian inclined his head. “It is. But does that mean it’s any less important?”
“Okay...But why me? What do I have to do?” Pyralis asked. What if I don’t want to? he added silently.
“I’ve chosen you because in the many many years that I have been in here, no one else has had the courage to come up and even speak with me. I sense that you have the right spirit to do what needs to be done,” the Guardian replied. He paused. “And because I literally have no other options. But as for what you would have to do, you would have to give up everything you have now. You would have to turn your back on Esmira.”
Pyralis was quiet as the Guardian got up and moved to an easel in the corner of the room. He pulled the sheet off of it to reveal a charcoal sketch of a very pretty elf with long, curly hair, full lips and angled eyes. “This is the Silent One. Or at least I call her that. I don’t know who she is, but she comes to me in my dreams. She can’t speak, can’t move. She reaches for me, but I can never move either,” he said in a far away voice. “She needs the weapon, I can feel it. I can’t go to her, but you can. You can bring her here,” the Guardian said, a note of desperation in his voice. “Will you do it?”
Pyralis hesitated. This was what he wanted, wasn’t it? A chance to escape his royal fate, a chance to go out and see the world. But now, faced with the choice, he didn’t know what to say. He would have to leave his parents, his sister. Even when he brought the Silent One back, Pyralis was certain that he would be shunned from the community. If he left, he could never really return, at least not to the way things were. But, at this point, he wasn’t sure he could go on with the knowledge that there was a whole unexplored world out there.
Finally, Pyralis had a chance to change his fate.
“I will,” he promised.
Pyralis could hear the smile in the Guardian’s voice as he replied, “Excellent. It is very brave of you to accept this, I’m now certain you’ll see this through.”
“Does anyone else know about this weapon?” Pyralis couldn’t help but ask. “Do the Elders know? They were probably here when the walls were built, right?”
“They were, but they put up voluntary blocks in their memory. The histories of Esmira are primarily fictional, but they remember them as real.”
“I always thought the histories were boring.”
The Guardian laughed. “It should be a comfort that they’re fake, then.”
“So no one else knows?” Pyralis prompted.
“The rulers do,” the Guardian replied. “After all, it is there job to discourage going out of the walls. If they themselves got curious...well, it just wouldn’t work. So yes, they volunteered to live in isolation in order to protect the Tears of Dawn. They know even less than I do.”
Pyralis blinked. His mother and father knew why they were there. They were the reason he was stuck in this place. Pyralis had spent the majority of his life hating being confined within the castle walls, and it turns out his own mother and father had put him there? If there was every any uncertainty about accepting this mission, it was suddenly washed away.
“Is something wrong?”
“No,” Pyralis answered quickly. “So I just go out beyond the walls and wander around until I find the woman in that picture?”
The Guardian held up a finger. “Ah, I have something else that might help you there.” He stood and flipped the paper on the easel around. Now, there was a charcoal sketch of a man with dark, choppy hair that reached just past his jaw. He was thin, with a handsome, chiseled face and a serious tilt of the eyebrows. He looked to be maybe twenty years old and had the expression of someone on the verge of anger. Charming. “I’ve also seen this man with her. He might be able to help you.”
Pyralis blinked. “Um...I don’t see how that helps me. Now instead of wandering around looking for the woman, I’ll be wandering around looking for the man to help me look for the woman.”
The Guardian paused. “Well...that is true. But now you’ll have twice the chance of finding someone helpful.”
“But if that chance was impossibly slim to begin with-”
“Trust in fate, young man!” the Guardian said cheerily. “I don’t, but you definitely should.”
Pyralis frowned. The Guardian took the paper off of the easel, folded it, and handed it to Pyralis. He took it. “So, if I find one of these people, they’re just going to help me?”
The Guardian hesitated. “Well...In all honesty, probably not. How are you at being convincing?” Pyralis looked at him blankly. “Right, well, I have an idea.” The Guardian turned around for a moment. He then handed Pyralis a silver ring. It was fairly nondescript, but had a hammered texture. It was slightly wider in one circular area, and on this flat spot was a chiseled teardrop.
Pyralis examined it. Inside, there were a few etched words. “The Tears of Dawn long...” he read. He flipped it over, turned it in his hand. “Where’s the rest?”
“I’m assuming with the Silent One,” he said. “But I don’t really know.”
“Okay... So the plan is to go out, happen to find her, show her the ring which she might happen to have the counterpart to and then bring her back here, where she might happen to be the one in need of the weapon. Am I missing something? I mean, something like the part that would mean this entire plan isn’t based on blind luck?”
“No, I think you’ve got it all,” the Guardian replied. “Good luck.”
His tone wasn’t exactly reassuring. The Guardian parted the curtains and looked out the window. It was night time now. Pyralis stood there dumbly, holding the ring and drawing, and trying to decide what to do next. After a minute, the Guardian turned around.
“Shouldn’t you be going? I’m sure there are things to get ready for tomorrow,” he said. “Food and whatnot.”
Pyralis blinked, “Tomorrow?”
The Guardian turned. “Well, yes. Aren’t you leaving in the morning?”
“I thought so,” he said.
“I didn’t hear anything about that,” Pyralis replied.
“I figured it was assumed. After all, it’s imperative that you bring the Silent One here as soon as possible,” the Guardian said with a tone of conviction.
Pyralis hesitated. “I just thought I’d have a few days to...you know, say goodbye to my family and everything?”
There was a moment of silence. “I’m sorry- What’s your name, again?”
“Oh. Oh.” He paused. “You’re royalty.” Pyralis nodded miserably. The Guardian continued. “Wow. I’m honored that you would give that up to go on this quest, and I really am sorry that you can’t have more time, Pyralis. However, my dreams have been growing more and more urgent. She’s slipping farther away. I fear that if you don’t go now, you’ll never find her.”
Pyralis sighed, “I understand. I’ll... I’ll be ready to go in the morning.”
He headed for the door, but hesitated. “Any last words of advice before I go?” After all, the Guardian was supposedly known for his wisdom. Having met him, however, Pyralis doubted whether this rumor was founded on fact.
“Mark where you leave. Mark the beginning of the trail you take,” the Guardian told him.
“You’ll see. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” Pyralis muttered as he left. He got the feeling that this quest was going to turn out to be an epic disaster. Hoping he wasn’t making the wrong choice, Pyralis decided to focus on the “epic” part.
Pyralis took a deep breath and raised his hand to knock on his sister’s door. It took a long moment for her to answer, which was understandable, seeing as it was well past midnight.
“Pyralis,” Aethia said in surprise. Her voice sounded groggy. “What are you doing here at this hour?”
He clenched and unclenched his fists, not surprised to find them sweaty. “Can I come in?”
She blinked, but nodded. Pyralis walked in and found a little oil lamp. He lit it and took a seat on a chair by the window. Aethia smoothed down her disheveled hair and wrapped her robe tighter around herself before sitting on the bed. “What’s wrong?”
Pyralis took a moment to answer. “I’m leaving.”
“You’re...leaving?” she repeated tiredly. “Where do you plan to go?” Aethia asked. It sounded like she was just humoring him.
“Outside the walls.” Her expression changed immediately. Every trace of sleep dropped away from her eyes as she looked at him.
“I know,” he interrupted. “I know the risks. I know that I probably won’t be allowed back.” Pyralis added quietly. “I know it could mean leaving you forever, and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
When he looked up, there were tears shimmering in her eyes. “Pyralis... Don’t go. Please don’t go. Why are you doing this?”
“I have to,” he said. “Please understand.”
“You don’t have to-”
“I’ll never be happy unless I go.” Pyralis felt a stab of guilt at manipulating her like this. “You want me to be happy, don’t you?”
Aethia gave a tearful nod.
“Then let me go,” he said, pleading with her. “If mother or father dies, you can rule in their place; I don’t want to anyway.” Pyralis moved to sit next to her and wrapped her in a hug. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Pyralis,” she replied, her voice shaky.
After a moment of silence, he said, “I have everything ready to go. I’m going to leave at dawn tomorrow.”
He felt her nod against his chest. “I need you to do something for me,” he said.
“What’s that?” Aethia sniffed.
“Tell mother and father where I’ve gone.”
“If I tell them, they’ll try to stop me,” Pyralis said, pulling back to look at her. “Please. If they ask why I’ve gone, just tell them it was because of the ‘tears of dawn’. They’ll understand.”
Aethia wiped away her tears. “I will. What does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” Pyralis answered, more or less honestly. “But they’ll understand. If I ever come back, I’ll tell you everything, I promise.”
“Please come back.”
“That’s the goal,” he said. “Even if it’s just for a visit.” Pyralis stood up. “Meet me at the grove in the morning if you want to say goodbye. But please don’t tell anyone I’m leaving until I’ve gone.”
Aethia nodded. “I won’t.”
“Goodnight,” Pyralis said.
“Goodnight,” she replied.
He got the feeling that neither of them would be getting much sleep that night.
The morning dawned clear and bright. The air was crisp and cool, and Pyralis breathed in the familiar scent of the grove - his and Aethia’s secret place. “Grove” was perhaps a bit of a misleading name, for it was really just a collection of large rocks nestled among two small but leafy trees. Squeezed between the back of the castle and the wall, no one ever seemed to stumble upon this little spot. Pyralis and his sister would go there to hide, to talk, or sometimes to just relax.
Pyralis ran his hand over the rough surface of his favorite boulder. One of the few gray things that he would miss. Aethia appeared at the edge of the grove, her eyes red. She wrung her hands together and stepped forward hesitantly. “I’ll miss you so much,” she said quietly. “Please be safe. And... be careful of what you look at, okay?”
“I’m not afraid of beauty,” Pyralis said quietly. Aethia looked down. Just to make her feel better, he added, “But I’ll be careful, don’t worry. And I’ll be back too.”
She nodded, then abruptly ran forward and hugged him tightly. Pyralis hugged her back for a long minute, closing his eyes. At last she drew away, but he didn’t want her to. Aethia reached into her pocket and withdrew a gold pendant wrought in the shape of a leaf. It dangled on a leather cord and she offered it to him.
“This is beautiful,” Pyralis said.
Aethia nodded silently. “I...I made it, but I was afraid of how pretty it turned out. I never wore it. Will you wear it and think of me?”
“Of course,” Pyralis said. He tied the leather cord around his neck. “Thank you.”
“Goodbye, Pyralis,” Aethia said, trying hard to hold back the tears.
Softly, he replied, “Goodbye, Aethia.”
Before he could regret his decision, Pyralis shouldered his pack and strode to the rough stone wall. It was high, but he was sure he could make it. Pyralis grabbed the first handhold he could find and hoisted himself up. He found a spot to wedge his foot into and kept going, not looking down until at last he reached the top.
He knew it was indulgent to pause at the top of the wall in plain sight, for the whole town could see him, but Pyralis was past caring; it would only be a matter of time until news spread anyway. He perched on the edge of the wall for a moment and looked down. Aethia waved. He nodded to her and then looked out at the trees on the other side of the wall. This was his last chance to turn back. Pyralis muttered a spell in elvish and threw himself off the wall, headed for the forest and all that it held.