There was utter silence in the room. Kane, the Guardian, was staring at the Black Queen. He didn’t seem to realize that everyone else was staring at him.
“Kane?” Naida breathed, the first to speak.
The Guardian glanced at her, but didn’t reply. He was still staring at Nyx. He reached out and touched her lips with a finger. “Speak.”
Nyx opened her mouth, but nothing came out. She shook her head. The Guardian frowned and held his hand out to Pyralis. “May I have my ring back?”
Pyralis took his necklace off and slid the ring into his palm. As he handed it over, he watched the Guardian with interest. He looked almost exactly like Kane, albeit less weathered. The Guardian plucked the ring from his hand and slipped it on. He tried touching Nyx’s lips again. She still couldn’t speak.
“I don’t understand. This is what I kept trying to do in my dreams, just touch her. I thought it would bring her voice back,” the Guardian said in confusion.
Cian stepped forward, ignoring the business with Nyx. “Why do you look like my brother?”
The Guardian looked at him. “Do I?”
“Almost exactly,” Cian replied.
He nodded in response. “I can explain that. But first, I have to figure out why this isn’t working, and what the weapon is that I need to give to the woman here.”
“Her name is Nyx,” Pyralis spoke up, “and this is Cian and Naida.”
“What is so important about the ring?” Naida asked abruptly with a scowl.
The Guardian seemed distracted, but he answered her, “I was given it long ago, and inside is contained half an inscription. I assumed that the person for whom the weapon is waiting has the other half.” He looked at Nyx. “I thought that it was Nyx here. I thought it might cure her.”
Pyralis glanced over as Naida shakily replied, “What was the inscription?”
“The inscription - what did it say?”
The Guardian was still looking at Nyx. “The tears of dawn long-“
“-for the joy of dusk,” Naida finished. Every head in the room snapped towards her. She held up her hand, on which a hammered silver band glimmered on one of her fingers. “I never knew what it meant.”
Suddenly, Nyx was forgotten. The Guardian crossed the room in long strides, stopping just short of Naida. “Where did you get this?”
“I don’t know. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember,” she admitted. Her cheeks colored slightly as she realized how close they were standing.
The Guardian raised his hand to hers. “May I?” he asked, gesturing towards the ring.
Naida nodded. He moved to pull it off, but when their hands touched, there was an explosion of light in the room. Pyralis was blinded by the white, and he staggered back, running his leg into the table. Slowly, it faded and he could see again. He gasped.
Everyone was radiating a faint glow, and they looked fresh and clean. The blood had disappeared from Naida’s clothes, and they seemed to fit her better. The dirt was gone from Cian’s face, and he shone with health. Nya’s dress had been repaired, her hair glossed, and her face washed. Pyralis looked down at himself and found that he, too, had been changed. Tentatively, he moved a bit, and there was no pain in his side. He touched it, and found it healed. Amazing.
“W-what just happened?” an unfamiliar voice asked hesitantly. Nyx stood there, blinking in shock. “I can speak again.”
Pyralis grinned. “Do you have your magic back too?”
The Black Queen raised her hand. Her freshly painted black nails glimmered in the light, long and threatening. “Let’s see.”
With a flick of her wrist, everyone in the room besides herself was slammed into the wall. Pyralis gasped as the breath rushed out of him. He tried to move, but found himself pinned. “What are yo-“
Nyx snapped her fingers, and Pyralis lost his voice. She smiled, her black lips parting to reveal gleaming teeth. “Well, that was easier than I thought it would be.”
Pyralis struggled, but to no avail. Cian growled, “Why are you doing this?”
Nyx looked over at him. “Oh, I don’t want to. I actually liked you, Cian.” She smiled again. “I liked Pyralis too, but he’s got some magic in him. I can’t risk letting him talk. Plus, his chatter does get annoying.”
“Let us go!” Naida cried.
“Not until he gives me the weapon,” Nyx said icily, nodding to the Guardian.
The Guardian gritted his teeth. “I told you, I don’t even know what it is.”
“Oh, I think you do. What was that flash of magic just now? You caused it, didn’t you?” she asked. “How? Was it the rings? Give me them.”
Asking for them was rather moot, for Nyx simply stalked up and plucked them from their immobile fingers. She slipped one on each hand, then waved her hand carelessly. A table across the room exploded, but she frowned. “My magic is no greater than it was before,” Nyx said, pouting. “Where is the real weapon?”
“I don’t know!” the Guardian insisted.
Nyx pointed at Naida, and she screamed in pain.
“I DON’T KNOW!” the Guardian cried desperately. Nyx dropped her hand, looking at him in suspicion. Naida let out a gasp of relief. She drew in a shuddering breath as the Guardian looked at her in worry.
“Fine. Why do these people seem to know you as someone else, then?” Nyx asked. The Guardian hesitated, but she raised her hand again, “I’d advise you to answer me.”
He gave in. “Because when Esmira was founded and I was chosen for the job, I was reluctant to give up my freedom, my life. However, the creators of the weapon were reluctant to allow me any outside contact for fear that someone might discover my secret. Therefore, we reached a compromise. The best sorcerers were brought in, and they created a…stand-in per-say. They took my basic genetic structure and, from it, created a child who, for all intents and purposes, lived. He had no soul, but he grew like I would, thought like I would, bled like I would. Then, they enhanced my lifespan, so that if I should need to be here longer than I would generally live, it would be feasible.
“For all I know, the child was given to a family to raise, and then allowed to live its own life. It does not surprise me that my second self - Kane, as you call him - gravitated towards the one with the ring,” the Guardian said, glancing at Naida. “The sorcerers might even have ensured it.”
Nyx placed a hand on her hip. “Very interesting. So you lived a double life, each with no knowledge of the other. And neither with any knowledge of what the weapon is?”
“I don’t know,” he repeated again. “I wasn’t given that information. They told me that it would all become clear eventually.”
Finally, Cian broke his silence. “Nyx, why are you doing this? We were going to help you defeat the White Queen; you don’t have to steal the weapon in order to do it.”
Looking back over at where Cian was pinned to the wall, Nyx said casually, “I was never one for sharing. Besides, who ever said that I wanted to destroy the White Queen?”
Pyralis blinked in surprise, along with the others. “She’s the one who bound your voice and your magic,” Cian said slowly. “And you don’t want revenge?”
“Oh, I’m not saying I don’t want her punished for tricking me like that. I will get revenge, but I don’t want her killed. At least not yet. She’s still very powerful, and I can use a powerful friend who’s indebted to me even more.”
“Friend?” Cian asked incredulously. “She stole your kingdom!”
“My kingdom?” Nyx laughed. “No, she stole the Black Queen’s kingdom.”
Cian stared at her. “You are the Black Queen.”
Nyx shook her head, a feral smile on her face. “No, I’m Nyx, a name you will soon come to fear and tremble before. The Black Queen is gone. The White Queen had her killed, and sent me, the most powerful dark sorceress, to take her place. I looked so similar that the people didn’t even notice. And if they did, well, there was always magic,” she said nonchalantly. “When I started to get a little too powerful for comfort, the White Queen had my magic taken from me and had me locked up. I’m pretty cross with her about that, but it all worked out rather nicely, didn’t it?”
Pyralis wanted to scream. This was all too much for him to take in. The Black Queen was good, wasn’t she? The Black Queen was. Nyx isn’t, Pyralis thought. He had foolishly considered her a friend. It had been a good act.
Nyx spread her arms playfully. “So here I am! Now give me the weapon. That way, I can go seek out the White Queen, punish her, and then take over any kingdom which catches my eye.” She looked at the Guardian again. “I don’t believe you. You must know where it is. Tell me.”
“I really don’t-“
Naida’s screams filled the air.
“I told you, I don’t-“
Nyx twisted her hand.
“PLEASE, I DON’T KNOW!”
Naida’s stopped screaming as Cian floated lightly to the floor. Nyx looked at him in surprise. “How-“
He flicked his hand, and she went flying backwards, crashing into a marble table. Nyx crumpled to the ground with a moan. Cian advanced towards her, drawing his sword, but a snap of her fingers sent it flying away. Another wave of her hand and Cian was flipped backwards, landing hard on his stomach. Pyralis held his breath as Cian lay there motionless.
Nyx struggled to her feet. “Where did you get magic?” she demanded. “You could barely light a fire the other day.” Nyx fired a beam of light towards Cian, but he suddenly rolled and sprung up lithely, slicing at the air with his hand. Nyx was thrown backwards so hard that she crashed through the glass balcony doors and out over the railing. Her foot caught on the edge, and she tumbled through the air and disappeared from sight. Pyralis felt the pressure on his body fade, and he fell to the floor. “What just happened?” he asked, glad to find that his voice had returned.
No one answered him. Cian had run to the edge of the balcony and was looking out over it, and the Guardian was hugging Naida close to his chest. She was crying. Pyralis pushed himself to his feet and went over to Cian, who stood at the railing. “Is she dead?”
He shook his head grimly. “She survived. She disappeared before I could do anything.”
“It’s okay; you saved us,” Pyralis said. “What happened exactly?”
“I think that flash of magic somehow unlocked the magic within me,” Cian said slowly. “I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but then when she was torturing Nadia, I felt a surge of something. I went with it, and it came so naturally…” He looked off. “It was so easy, it was almost scary.”
“It’ll take some getting used to, I suppose,” Pyralis said. Cian didn’t look convinced. After the silence stretched on for a moment, Pyralis continued, “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Any of it. That Naida was actually the one with the ring, that your brother was essentially a clone, that the Black Queen was dead and Nyx was working with the White Queen… It’s a lot to take in,” Pyralis said. “I can’t even imagine how it is for you.”
Cian glanced back over his shoulder. “I don’t know how I should treat him now. He looks and acts like Kane, but he has none of his memories. And…”
“This also means that Kane wasn’t my real brother,” Cian muttered. The pause was awkward, for Pyralis didn’t know how to respond. Cian broke it by chuckling dryly. “I guess I should have realized. After all, we looked nothing alike.”
Finally, Pyralis said something, his voice quiet, “You don’t have to look alike to be brothers. You don’t even have to share the same blood. You and Kane were as much brothers as anyone I’ve ever known.”
Cian gave him a wan smile. “Thank you, Pyralis.”
With a nod, Pyralis replied, “Of course.” He looked out over the forest. “I guess you’re going to go after her now?”
He gave a half shrug. “What else is there to do? I can’t exactly sit back and let them go on a rampage.”
Pyralis nodded. “I’ll go with you.”
“No,” Cian said, shaking his head. “No, I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You didn’t ask. I offered,” Pyralis said. “I want to go with you. I want to help.”
“You don’t think I can just sit back, can you? Let me help,” he insisted.
Cian gave in with a sigh. “We’ll talk about this later.”
With that, the conversation was closed. There had been enough developments for one day; they didn’t need to add an argument on top of it, even though Pyralis would rather die than see Cian fight this battle alone.