A long period of time – or maybe a short one, I couldn’t tell – had passed with me in the cell. My hunger was extreme, which is typical when recovering from heavy magic use, so I wasn’t sure if the meals that the guards brought me were at regular meal-times or days in between. It felt like an eternity, though. I took the time to recuperate, as well as I could in the comfort of a cell. There was no cot or blankets, nothing but a chamber pot which smelled horrible, unsurprisingly.
I didn’t attempt to leave. I probably could have picked the lock by now, but I had no desire to. Though my head still throbbed, for several reasons, I’d worked through worse. But if I did escape, where could I even go? There were no Suryan Mages to return to, and through my own actions, no family for me to fall back on.
I’d spent most of the time trying to ignore everything that happened and failing miserably. I couldn’t really sleep, despite my utter exhaustion, because all I could see were her last moments, the light leaving her body. Just behind my eyes, I saw over and over again, her fevered face twisted in agony as she took my strongest blows. She truly must be – must have been – very powerful to have lasted as long as she did. I found some measure of comfort in knowing that she never had to serve as a Suryan Mage, stolen into slavery like I had been, but another part of me wished she had. Then, at least we wouldn’t have been alone.
But it wasn’t as if I could change the past. I was stuck here, in the future I made for myself. It was fitting that I would end in a dungeon. I didn’t care if Dayne would execute me or not, and a dark part of me hoped that he would. This world would be a brighter place without me polluting it. I grew restless. The guards brought another meal, and I deducted I’d been here at least a full day now. But it was anyone’s guess as to how long it’d really been.
More than anything, I was bored. Sitting in a dungeon by oneself isn’t very entertaining; all I had to busy myself was trying to deduce what might happen to me. That, and attempt to determine who or what was lumped in the corner of darkness in the cell across the way from mine. It could’ve been a pile of clothes, a corpse, a dog, really, anything. I could see enough to determine that something was there, but that was it. It hadn’t so much as twitched the entire time since I’d noticed its presence.
The pile of clothes, or whatever it was, hidden across from me coughed and groaned. I started; I’d half expected the lump to be something dead, or inanimate. Well, that eliminates my pile of clothes theory. It was a person, and apparently, a living one.
“You’re alive!” I exclaimed, shocked, and for some reason, pleasantly surprised.
I sat up straighter against the damp dungeon wall, arching my neck forward in an attempt to see better. Surely, rotting in a cell with company had to be better than the alternative. My curiosity had overcome my overwhelming urge to wallow in my self-hatred.
“Unfortunately,” croaked the poor soul across the cell from me.
No... that couldn’t be... could it? It was unmistakable; I’d practically grown up with this person, I would’ve recognized that distinct voice anywhere.
“Princess?” I questioned, not daring to believe my hunch.
“Yep,” Nya coughed, “it’s a pleasure.”
“Forgive me, princess, but I’m surprised they allowed you to live,” I whispered, trying to be as polite.
She was a princess, after all. Despite what position she may be in now it had been ingrained into my head throughout all of my adult life to be subservient to the Urion family. Despite her involvement in my sister becoming a crime lord, I couldn’t break that old habit.
“Do I look like a princess right now?” she asked, laughing sarcastically. “You can stop being so formal. I think we’re past that.”
She sounded so dejected; I could only imagine the expression on her face. Knowing her as I did, I was almost sure her brow was furrowed, lips pursed; perhaps even a tear or two was welling up in her eyes. But there was no way for me to tell. The darkness concealed her well, and she was too far away.
“I miss the early days,” I said quietly, my thoughts taking form as words before I could stop them.
“As do I,” she sighed. “I want to apologize.”
“For what, exactly?” I asked, wondering if she would admit her mistakes to me now.
“For not being better for you,” she said. She let out a long sigh, breathing deeply. This only resulted in another round of intense coughing.
I realized Nya had become in orphan in an instant... she had lost both of her parents and her Kingdom at the hands of Dayne Cerul and... my sister. Immediately, I felt ashamed. She was hurting just as much as I was.
“We both knew we couldn’t ever really be together. You’re a princess... and I’m... me. It made sense,” I said, ignoring for now that she hadn’t fulfilled her end of our deal.
“You made me happy, you know,” she whispered.
At least I had made someone happy at some point in my life, and not everything I’d done so far had been bad.
“Me too. But we weren’t good together, and that’s clear to me now,” I whispered back to her.
“We encouraged each other’s worst tendencies. I just wish things were different.”
“Nya?” I asked hesitantly, summoning the courage to confront her.
“Why didn’t you tell me that you didn’t provide for my family like you promised?” I said quickly, rushing the words from my lips before I lost my nerve.
She inhaled through her nose, a sharp intake of air. “I’m sorry you found out this way.”
“You lied to me the whole time,” I said, biting the consonants harshly.
“I did. For the good of the Kingdom,” she said quietly, dejected. “And... because I’m selfish.”
I blinked, surprised she would admit any fault. It wasn’t like her to claim that she was anything other than perfect.
“So, you really did manipulate me. You made me feel indebted to you, took advantage of the love I had for my sister, and you twisted it to your benefit,” I scoffed. “I could’ve saved Renn.”
She didn’t answer, and I knew I had heard enough. I leaned back against the grimy walls, looking up to stop the tears in their tracks that threatened to spill from my eyes.
“It’s not an excuse, but we tried, you know. We couldn’t find them,” she said mildly. “We heard from the other villagers that your sister had already run away and that your father had died. You held such promise, my father wanted you in his army, and well...” she trailed off.
“Well what? I deserve to hear every reason why you lied to me for fifteen years,” I spat, still leaning against the wall. The tears blurred my vision.
"I didn’t want you to leave,” she said plainly. “I wanted you for myself. So, I lied.”
I blinked watery eyes, the tears leaving salt-stained streaks down my cheeks as they fell.
“I should’ve said something, I know, but I was afraid too. We were both children, and father made me swear not to. I know it’s too late, but I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
“Why even bother telling me this?” I asked.
“You asked, and I answered. And, I’m sure our time here is coming to an end. I doubt the fearsome Dayne Cerul will let us live,” she said nonchalantly.
“You think he’ll kill us?”
I had trouble reconciling the person that I knew with the picture of merciless King that Nya illustrated for me. He was kind, and funny... but now that he held power, held his enemies in his hands to crush or to keep, what would he do? Did he see me as his enemy? I thought that we were friends – maybe even more – but I wasn’t sure.
Dayne had become a close friend of mine, and the lines had been crossed into a romantic relationship, and I had told myself the entire time that it was simply all for the mission... but was it really? When had I become concerned with what he thought of me? When did I feel upset about him not wanting me for me? When had I tiptoed over the line I drew and started to see him as a man instead of a target? I was the worst spy in the history of the Suryan Mages, but it was just as well.
“I think he’ll kill me,” Nya continued, ignorant of my internal ramblings. “I’m his worst enemy’s daughter.”
I heard the scrapings of cloth against skin. Was she wiping away tears?
“My father executed his parents and older brother and then kept him as a trophy,” she said, sickened. She sighed wistfully. “He used to be so sweet and gentle... but I’m sure he isn’t the Dayne I knew as a child anymore.” Nya examined her dirty nails, scuffed and broken, no doubt from her struggles to escape.
“You knew him?” I asked, surprised.
“Long ago. Father kept him to play with me when we were small. He was a little older than me, but he still played with me as if we were siblings. He looked after me, helped me when I fell. Like a brother.”
“When I was about five years old, the rebellion was reawakening. I didn’t know at the time, but they were raiding and attacking our soldiers, guerilla warfare. They were calling for the Rynish heir to be returned as the rightful King.” She dispersed the facts with a cold manner, spewing information without bias. “Father couldn’t allow such dissent throughout the Kingdom. Our newly found peace was tenuous, and these rebels were disturbing it. So, he did what he thought he had to do.”
I said nothing, prompting her to continue.
“He made plans to publicly execute Dayne, just like he had his parents. He had to show the rebels that there was no Heir to the Ryne.” She panted, a little breathless from all that speech. “As I said, I was only five, so while I was kept in the dark, I heard the whispers around the castle that Dayne was to be executed. Nobody sees children.” She laughed, a short, sarcastic huff.
I nodded grimly; I could see where this was going.
“I had to save my friend and get him out of the castle. I found him locked in his room and stole the keys. I just... let him out. I created a distraction so he could escape, even.” She laughed at the memory, a sweet, light giggle.
It made me smile to hear that laugh, reminding me of our past together.
“I threw myself down the main staircase,” she chuckled. “Fortunately, plenty of people were in the great hall and saw me fall. The entire castle came running to my rescue. Maids, visiting noblemen, my parents... everybody. It was hours before they noticed he was gone.”
I stared at her, openmouthed. Dean really was the lost Rynish prince.
“I guess he had to survive somehow; became involved with the Naga. Took a false name, too. It wasn’t as if he could be Dayne Cerul.”
“He told me his name was Dean Red when I met him.”
“Dean? That sounds so odd,” she laughed, this time, a light jovial chuckle. “It sounds so... boring.”
“Nya, I’m glad you told finally told me everything... and then some. And... I’m so sorry about your parents. I’m so sorry that I failed them, and you.”
“You didn’t fail us,” she whispered, her words thick with emotion. “We failed you.”