The monah slumbered in the deep comfort of her enormous, expensive bed, bought with the money made from her recent weaponry campaign. An elegant sword given to her father as payment a long time ago lay next to her as protection. The giver of the gift had been one who possessed the wealth of many nations. Its hilt was quite barren and plain, but the sword’s inherent majesty held Nyx’s adoration. The sword was made with impeccable taste and caution; the gentle tapering of the metal and the fluid, seamless melding of the two halves of the invisibly thin sword were the work of a Zarian, the masters of fire.
A gentle sound came at her door, immediately rousing Nyx from her restless and shallow sleep. In her tired state, she could not muster the energy or the consciousness required to show anger.
“Yes?” she asked, drawing out the word in a faint and low voice, her eyes half closed.
The door swung open noiselessly, letting in more darkness that had been previously lurking in the hallway. Nyx saw no shadow walk into the room, and she was immediately alert. Her slender yet calloused hand slid under the covers and slowly wounds its fingers tightly around the hilt of the sword, ready for a confrontation. Nothing happened for nearly thirty seconds, and Nyx swiveled her head in all directions, looking for anything she might have missed.
“Sa hjar kulo,” she commanded in a strong, clear voice. Show yourself.
Still, no strange happenings occurred. The dust storm blowing outside the building created strong high-pitched whistles where the wind wiggled through the windows and pipes and careened through the ducts. The minuscule blue scaled notebook Nyx always kept close to her, which was previously teetering on the edge of her nightstand, fell to the floor and caused Nyx to leap off of her bed and whip her sword through the air until it was three millimeters from the notebook’s cover. She nearly sliced part of the book through before she realized what had made the noise.
The next second, a hand came to rest on her right shoulder, and Nyx twirled in a circle, bringing her left hand up to catch the hand while moving her right arm, which held the sword, in a windmill motion to come down on the person’s head. Before her right arm could come down all the way, however, the person caught her right arm in midair, as if he had anticipated this move, and he used his advantage of grip and surprise to trap Nyx’s left arm against her back. They were now in a gruesome mockery of a ballroom dancing position, and the man muttered, his voice low and confident, “I trained with you day and night. You think you can best me?”
Nyx gasped, her grip on her sword lost completely. It clattered to the ground, inches away from the man’s foot, and he kicked it underneath the bed. Nyx still did not move; she could do nothing but try and discern the features of the man’s face in the utter blackness, but she could not. She twisted her head and craned her neck to try and see any part of him, but he was holding her too tightly. She managed to stutter, “jor,” and the orb hanging above her nightstand glowed a warm yellow, throwing the man’s features into the light. His once pale white face was brown from time in the blazing sun. All his features were stronger now; his jaws were strong and square, and his mouth was a thin line, anger evident in its rigidity. His brown hair looked much more coarse than it once was, and the man even seemed a few inches taller. Nyx’s eyes slowly made their way to every feature on the man’s face, remembering the broken nose she had given him. She finally locked her own muddy brown eyes with his powerful gray ones. His gaze did not waver; it showed no emotion. Nyx’s remembered a time when he was an open book–never able to hide his emotions, his thoughts. Now he was a stranger to her. In fact, Nyx could not pull her eyes away, his stare was so static. She could not breathe. Her mind and her stomach were much too confused to be able to function in even the most average way. Her stomach twisted and turned in confusion, and her mind attempted feebly to sort through the thoughts racing away before actually being interpreted. When Nyx tried to move and realized that the man was trapping her, she tried to form cohesive words that might make sense to him.
“Pl- Please…” she swallowed and panted as her mind churned. “Let me go.”
His grip was still like a vice.
“I won’t…I won’t…please. You’re hurting…me.”
“Partially the point, my dear. Why are you so surprised to see me? Might it be because you left me? You thought I would be too much of a coward to confront you?”
Nyx felt hurt, anger, surprise, confusion, sadness, and most of all, love. She registered the tone and the meaning of his words, and her sadness abounded. Tears stung her eyes and spilled over freely, causing her to tremble, furthering her overall improper coordination. She shook her head slightly at first, and then more vehemently as the man’s grip tightened even further, pressing into the small of her back with her hand, which he held in his.
“No, no. I didn’t. I–”
“Shut up, before you lie again,” he cut her off, but still she kept shaking her head and mumbling.
“I didn’t leave you,” she managed to choke out.
He let her go completely, throwing her off balance. She fell to the ground on all fours, the tears still flowing rapidly over her face. Now the man could not maintain his anger. Seeing her cry, seeing her fully consumed by emotion, was wholly unnatural to him. From childhood, he had rarely seen her cry, and when he had, the tears had shown themselves out of frustration and anger, not out of sadness or deep emotion. Her tears then had been shallow and sparse. Now, a dam seemed to break inside of her. She was speaking incoherently and he strained to listen, but he feared that if he came any closer, he might just fall to his knees alongside her and pull her into his lap, anything to make her tears go away.
“Why?” she was repeating over and over again, her voice breaking his heart every second he stayed. His mind was telling him, urging him, screaming at him to walk away, to sprint away from this place and to return home, but his heart reached with tender hands toward Nyx, and that was a much more potent argument. The man’s feet began inching forward, and his hands fumbled over his clothes, pulling out his weapons and placing them on the floor. They were clean and polished–a habit he often fell to when nervous or whiling away his time. Nyx was still crying, still sobbing over this man, and he was slowly making his way to her.
Anger. Hate. Fury. Frustration. Sadness. Abandoned. Remember. He thought to himself, but his heart twisted in agony at the feelings. What a stupid thing to think it seemed to berate him. What a terrible way to live your life, to force anger and hate when love will fix so many things.
The man was now inches away from the crouched Nyx, who was rocking back and forth on the ground, hugging her knees and still crying, but now only the tears flowed down her pruny and puffy face. She no longer shook violently, and her words were clear, albeit whispered. “Why,” she repeated incessantly.
The man snapped, “Stop it! You sound insane.”
Nyx’s body froze, but she kept her head ducked as if protecting her face from a blow. Is she… scared of me? he thought in surprise which quickly turned into an incomprehensible despair. She’s scared of me. Nyx is scared of…me.
His voice softened tenfold as he whispered to her, “And I know you’re not insane. I know you’re smart, strong, and insanely mischievous. Never insane.”
As he said these words, he reached out a hand to stroke her hair, but she flinched away from him, and her head popped up to reveal her expression. It was full-blown anger. She detested him. He was once again thrown into confusion and could do nothing but stare, captivated, at her eyes, red from the tears.
“Why,” she growled through gritted teeth. Her anger diffused through the room like a powerful scent, and the man could feel his former anger welling inside him. She had no right to act like she was mad at him! He was the victim!
“Why, what,” he replied, saying it as if it were a statement rather than a question.
Nyx unfolded her body and the power in her glare maximized, holding the man still. “Why did you do it. Why did you betray me, betray my father, when I thought you were my best friend. Why did you leave me alone when I needed you to stay with me. Why do you think I left you when it was you who left me. Why are you here. Explain yourself!” The words spilled out of her mouth, and many more questions lined themselves up in her mind, but she calmed her thoughts, waiting for these answers first. Her hand had found its way under the bed and was now holding the sword, which she pointed at the man.
“You would point a weapon at me when I risked my life to protect you. Really, you are…unique. I did not betray you, my dear, I saved your life, your future, by doing what I did. Your father was planning to make you the head of his business and then run away, leaving you at the mercy of the thugs he dealt with daily! He betrayed you, not I!” the man explained passionately. “And when I thought I would be welcomed with open arms and gratitude, I come to your home, empty and deserted. You’re not there, your servants were not there, not a single soul! What do I do but panic? I nearly drove myself mad thinking about what happened to you. I thought you were killed. I thought I was too late. But oh, no. Within months, I hear of this new power rising in the East, on the other side. I hear of new weapons, a new army, a strong leader that was stabilizing their side. A new leader who fought for their wishes, not ours. A woman. A rich woman.”
Nyx’s eyes grew wide at the new information, but she still stayed strong, not sure whether to believe him, though he had never lied to her before about such grave matters.
“Of course, I could not know that it was you. The only reason I even had a remote idea that it might be you was the timing. Why now, why not before or later. How did she get the power, unless she had it beforehand. Nowadays no one shares their true names, so how could I know? I wasn’t willing to travel to the other side of the world on a hunch, so I searched Ambura completely. Three years, I searched. By the end of that time, I knew you were no longer there. I had exhausted every city, every port, every major ship, plane, information exchange area. Every day I searched. You had to be somewhere else. I could not accept that you had died. You would not give up so easily. So I ventured to this side of the world. I saw the plethora of bulletin boards and flyers and propaganda. None of them mentioned you, always a different woman, so I searched for her, hoping she would have the resources to help me find you. I searched for her in any database, any directory, anywhere for that name. Within weeks I found out she was an actor. Paid to pretend to have created this new power, this new hope. She was a figurehead. I was so heartbroken, thinking that you actually had been killed. I thought I would try one last time in a military database–they normally hold the honest information. I snuck into one of the databases and was about to look for your name, your picture, anything. But I had triggered an alarm and could not find a way out. I was about to give up, but a girl, a small girl with dark purple eyes and long blonde hair, came to save me. I remembered her. Astrid. One of your father’s servants. An assassin. A diplomat. Why, she did everything for him, did she not? I wondered where she had come from but before I could ask questions she saved me. She showed me the way out. I had hope again, prayed that you were the one paying for the figurehead, you were the one with the power, if only so you could still be alive.”
Nyx’s expression grew dark and suspicious, picturing the unpredictable girl in her head.
“Astrid told me to follow her, that she would show me the way to you, but I kept in mind her history. Not the best person to trust. So I declined the offer, but I followed her from a distance.”
“She would have known. She is too keen,” Nyx cut in, despite herself.
The man shrugged and conceded, “Yes, most likely she did. But I followed her, and she led me straight to this mansion, hidden so well and guarded so heavily. And I saw you. I saw you coming out the front doors, wild as ever and your eyes…so much colder and meaner. I remember a time when they were always warm and loving. Why did I not come here sooner? I became so…angry, Nyx. So angry. How could you leave me and let me think you were dead? Do you know how much agony I went through? I was ready to kill innocent others, to kill myself. I thought it was my fault that you were killed. I thought I brought about the destruction of your servants and your livelihood. Now I see you are living quite nicely. Quite able to forget me, and all I have done for you. Quite able to hold a sword to my face without the least tremor in your arms. I understand. I waited outside this mansion for months. For months, I’ve never seen you leave this territory. Are you so scared of the world you are creating? Don’t think you are so secure even in your home, Nyx. It was people from this house that gave me supplies and food with which to sustain myself when I was waiting for you outside. This war-crazed, bloodthirsty, power hungry world you’ve helped create is no longer an honest one.”
Nyx slowly swung her sword away from the man’s body, and let it hang at her side, the tip lightly touching the ground.
“Why should I believe a word you say to me? How can I be sure you are not here because you were sent?”
The man, who had previously been on his knees, now collapsed to the floor, winded by the unfeeling, untrusting woman that he now saw before him.
“You really have changed, Nyx. You used to put all your faith in me. You would never have to ask a single ques–”
“Yes, but that was before my father was hauled away in chains before my eyes, and the Paszers told me it was you who told them about him! I’m sorry if I don’t exactly feel able to place my heart in your hands anymore, Bane. Don’t you dare lecture me on trust. You led me to where I am now. Do you know sometimes I wish I could escape this fate? Just go somewhere with leagues of green, thousands of kilometers of pure water, and people that didn’t fight a war that was no longer theirs. Do you think I don’t know I am part of this war?
“And not only you remember better days. I still think about the times we would laugh together and tell each other everything. Now I am so unhappy, Bane. I am so miserable but I cannot escape because if I do, everything I am trying to change will be lost. This war will no longer be mine to control. I just want you to know, it was all you. All because of you. All for you. Now please, leave. Please leave before I have to keep you in my dungeons.”
The man could not believe his ears. Of course, in Nyx’s mind her argument made sense. To him, it seemed absurd and impossible. He rose to his feet, his mouth slightly open in shock and his eyes never leaving Nyx’s eyes, which burned with a seemingly endless fire. He shook his head and murmured, “I loved you. Still I do. Now it’s goodbye, jaana.”
He turned robotically and strode out of the room and out of the mansion, unable to look behind him for fear of Nyx seeing his tears. He was not the only one with that concern. The moment Bane stepped out of her room, Nyx fell against her bed, her knees shaking uncontrollably. She hoped he wouldn’t turn around, for he would see her, defeated, wiping at her eyes with the back of her now trembling hand. All the fire was gone from her eyes, and now her heart was broken further, shooting physical pain through her chest.
“Why?” she whispered to herself.