She still couldn’t breathe. Her hands scrambled at her throat, clutching it. She shot up, twisting and thrashing, trying to throw off the suffocating feeling still crushing her.
Her eyes opened and someone caught her hands. The pressure on her lungs ebbed and cool, real air filled them.
“Vitalis,” Cyra breathed as she stared at him.
He let go of her hands and cautiously reached forward. His fingers brushed her cheek. She leaned into his palm and something felt familiar about it, but Cyra just couldn’t quite remember from where.
What had happened?
Before she could ask, Vitalis had wrapped his arms around him. She weakly held his shoulders as he clung to her, almost shaking in her arms.
Cyra looked over her shoulder to see Mihrab watching from by the desk. She shot him a confused look, but he only shook his head with a slight smile.
“You’re alright,” Vitalis whispered, “You’re alive.”
“Of course I am,” Cyra said. She furrowed her brow, trying to remember. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
Vitalis pulled back. “You don’t remember.”
“Remember what?” Cyra rubbed at her head.
“Cyra, what’s the last thing you can recall clearly?” Mihrab asked, stepping closer.
She frowned and concentrated. “I think Vitalis and I, we were going somewhere… to stop Ano.”
Cyra froze as it all came rushing back to her. The poison. The cavern. Ano, or well the demon actually. The altar.
“Soray…” Cyra whispered.
Mihrab kneeled at her bedside. He pulled her into a hug. Cyra shook slightly. “He killed her. She’s gone.”
“I know. I know,” Mihrab whispered. He rubbed her shoulders, but no tears came to her eyes.
Cyra wanted to cry. She really did. She could feel the sobs building in her throat, but she wouldn’t cry in front of him.
Not in front of Mihrab.
She just didn’t cry in front of him.
Cyra blinked as felt the rough fabric beneath her hands. Mourning clothes.
She looked up, remembering the strange out of body experience. The funeral happened earlier.
“Take me to the tomb.”
Cyra pulled away from Mihrab and pushed the covers back.
Vitalis caught her arm. “You just woke up from a coma. You’re in no state to go anywhere.”
Cyra pushed him away. A numb feeling was slowly taking over. “How long have I been in a coma?”
“A week and a half, almost two.” Mihrab rose to his feet.
Cyra ignored both of them and shakily climbed to her feet. “Then take me to Soray’s tomb.”
She stood for a moment before her legs gave out, and Vitalis had to lunge forward to catch her. His arms caught her waist and steadied her. He held her close. “Still think you can make the trip?”
“I’m going to her tomb even if I have to crawl.”
“Alright. We’ll take you,” Mihrab said.
Vitalis sighed, letting Cyra stand on her own. She took a few steps, and when her legs shook, Vitalis was at her side in an instant.
She took his arm, and Mihrab came around the other side.
Vitalis stayed quiet as Mihrab led the way. They moved through the palace as Mihrab led them deep below. They passed several other guards on their way. They guards would stop and stare at the sight of Cyra.
Word had spread quickly of what had happened.
Anoshiruvan was a traitor who murdered his bride.
Prince Vitalis and Cyra had hurried to try and rescue her, but failed. In their attempt, Cyra had been injured and fallen in a coma while protecting the prince.
Everyone had feared there would be another funeral.
Some of the court had wished for it; Cyra was certain.
The guards outside of the royal family’s tomb noticed Mihrab coming, and when they saw him and Vitalis in mourning clothes, they stepped aside.
It was dark with only a few torches dotting the walls.
The royal tomb was filled for as far as the eye could see of caskets.
They were all extravagant pieces with the likeness of their encased carved on top.
Cyra stumbled to the most recent one where a beautiful woman’s face was carved in stone. Cyra’s fingers traced her cousin’s face.
Her hand shook.
“There’s no body, is there?” Cyra looked back at Mihrab and Vitalis.
“They couldn’t find her body. The cavern had completely caved in. They couldn’t even find any trace of the demon,” Vitalis said, taking a step forward.
Cyra wasn’t even sure if she had spoken. She couldn’t hear herself. She repeated it louder. “Leave me.”
Mihrab left without a word, disappearing out of sight.
Vitalis hesitated, but backed away carefully. His eyes didn’t leave her, not until he had to turn the corner.
Cyra rested her head on the cold stone.
It was empty, and it was her fault. She had left Soray there.
She had let Soray marry him.
Soray hadn’t wanted to. Soray begged to get out of it. She wanted to run away. Soray had never wanted to marry Ano.
But Cyra hadn’t helped.
Cyra had known Ano was dangerous, and she hadn’t done anything to stop the marriage.
It was her fault. Anoshiruvan— the demon, he had killed Soray, yes, but it was Cyra’s fault too. She let it happen.
A few tears fell.
Soray, beautiful, sweet Soray.
All Soray wanted was to be loved.
All Soray got was to be thrown away like an after thought.
She deserved better.
A soft sob escaped.
It was supposed to have been Cyra. Ano had said it himself. He had intended on sacrificing Cyra on that altar.
Cyra should have died.
Ano had said Vitalis, but no there was something else to it.
That day, with Ano and Soray, in the garden. Her mind ached like something was blocking her from remembering it fully.
With a push of her magic, Cyra broke through the block.
Ano. Cyra remembered now. Ano had been talking to Soray He had led her to the tree, and Soray had been leaning against it. Ano had gotten her to touch the Ruins’ Tree.
Cyra had seen it! Why hadn’t it registered with her then? Why hadn’t she realized it then? What was wrong with her head?
She stumbled away from Soray’s empty casket. She covered her mouth, staggering further back. With her head down, she passed a small casket, a casket that could only be made for a child. Cyra brushed her hand over her sister’s carved face before approaching the only other empty casket in the tomb.
“What would you have done?” Cyra asked. Her father’s likeness only glinted in the torchlight.
It was the only way she knew what he looked like.
“What do I do now?” Cyra whispered.
Where did she go from there?
A dark heavy weight pulled at her heart. She was just so… confused.
Soray was dead.
Ano had disappeared into the night.
It had all been an act. Ano had never felt anything for her, not the real Ano. The real Anoshiruvan never gave her a second glance. It was the demon who tricked her, telling her things no one else had, making her feel special, beautiful,
Ano had made her feel like a queen.
She really was nothing but a fool.
A few more tears fell. Her legs shook. Her cousin, the woman Cyra had been destined to protect was gone. Who was she now without her? Who was she now that Ano had used her?
“Father,” Cyra’s voice cracked. She slid to her knees before his casket. She pushed her throbbing head against the cold stone. “I’m so lost.”
“I don’t understand anything anymore,” she groaned. “How did this happen? Why didn’t I realize what was going on? Why didn’t I see the signs? Why didn’t I listen?”
She started shaking. More tears dripped from her eyes and onto her legs.
She felt so…
She was alone, and it was all her own fault.
Mandana’s death, Soray’s death, being tricked by Ano, pushing Mihrab away, fighting Vitalis every step of the way…
A loud, crushing sob tore from her throat. She covered her mouth and stifling scream in her throat as she slammed her other hand on the ground.
Her heart shook in her chest, and Cyra say there, trying to breathe and calm herself down.
As her heart stuttered, Cyra started to move her hands underneath her to push herself back up to her feet. When she tried to get her legs underneath her, they wouldn’t move. She couldn’t feel her legs.
“Cyra…” A soft musical voice crooned in her ear.
Her head whipped around, and she let out a started shriek, but no one was there.
Her legs still would not budge.
The was a rush of footsteps and within seconds Cyra found herself in his arms. She gripped the back of his shirt, still shaking.
“I’ve got you,” Vitalis whispered, holding her head. “I’m here.”
She mumbled into his shoulder.
Vitalis’ head shifted. “What was that?”
Cyra spoke up, tightening her grip on him, “It was supposed to be me.”
“What are you talking about?” Vitalis asked.
“It was supposed to be my casket,” Cyra said, unable to stop herself from shaking. “I should have died.”
“Don’t you dare,” Vitalis said, tightening his grip. “Don’t you dare say that. Don’t even think it. Listen to me, Cyra, you were not supposed to die. I don’t care what that demon said, he was lying. You were not supposed to die.”
“You must think me the worst fool in the world for loving him, for falling for his lies.” Cyra shifted so her chin rested on his shoulder.
“Never. He took advantage of you; he’s to blame, not yourself. Sometimes we just love who we do regardless of whether or not it makes sense or whether or not we should, regardless of whether or not they love us back.” Vitalis paused, as if debating whether or not he should say something else. He sighed, “I think you’re the strongest person I know. You’re still here and you’re still fighting despite everything he’s done. Most people would have stepped aside and let someone else handle it. No one would blame you if you wanted to step back from all of this.”
Cyra pulled her head back. “Maybe you’re right. I should step back because I’m not strong enough. I wasn’t good enough to save Soray. I’ve barely been able to protect you.”
“That’s not what I said at all. You have protected me. You’ve saved my life so many times that I’m losing track.” Vitalis hand came up to her face, and his fingers brushed her cheek. “Don’t blame yourself, please. It’s not going to help.”
“Vitalis.” Cyra closed her eyes for a moment. “Where do we go from here?”
There was something in his eyes. There was something he knew. He had an answer in his eyes.
He said, “I don’t know. We’ll figure it out.”
Vitalis’ fingers brushed her hair as she leaned into his hand slightly. “Cyra…I…”
She blinked, waiting for him. He gave her a searching look.
Cyra had no idea what he was looking for, but he didn’t find it. There was a brief flicker of pain across his face.
“We’re going to be alright. Do you trust me?”
“Of course I trust you.” Cyra uncurled her fingers from his shirt. “It’s myself I’m not sure I can trust anymore.”
“Then you’ll have to settle for my trust,” Vitalis said. “Are you ready?”
Cyra nodded. Vitalis started to climb to his feet. With a deep breath, Cyra tried again, but feeling had not returned to her legs.
Fear struck her like lightning. She gaped at the ground in horror.
“There’s something wrong with me,” Cyra whispered. She touched her ankle, but there was still no feeling. Her voice shook and broke. “I can’t feel my legs.”
Vitalis’ face paled. He quickly reached down and pulled her up. He wrapped one arm around her waist and pulled her arm over his shoulder. He leaned her whole weight against his.
He carefully helped her out of the tombs.
Cyra was chilled to her core at how similar it all was to when she and Vitalis escaped the cavern.
“I’ve got you,” Vitalis whispered. “You’re going to be alright.”
* * *
Vitalis and Mihrab had helped Cyra back to her own room rather than Vitalis’ room. It was a little odd to be back in her own room after having lived on Vitalis’ sofa for so long.
Mihrab had gone to fetch a physician, leaving Vitalis to hover over Cyra.
She was too shaken and worried to be annoyed by him. Every so often she thought she heard someone say her name, but she was too tired to see if it was Vitalis or not.
Occasionally, Cyra stretched her arms out to rub her knees, hoping the more she touched them the sooner the feeling would return.
Vitalis was pacing the room, drumming his fingers on his side.
He opened his mouth, but never got to say anything as Mihrab returned with the physician. Mihrab dragged Vitalis out of the room so the physician could check Cyra over.
She patiently did as she was told, trying to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Once the physician finished, he let Mihrab and Vitalis back in. He said, “There’s no need to worry, the feeling in her legs should return shortly. I’d say it’ll be around an hour or two. It’s a side effect of the poisons that were in her couple with some of the effects of the coma, like not using her legs in two weeks. Take it easy the next few days, don’t let her overwork her legs like she did today.”
He turned to her, saying, “Cyra, you’ll need at least another week to recover, probably more than that, slowly build up your strength again.”
“But, Prince Vitalis needs—” Cyra protested.
“I’ll handle it,” Mihrab said. He gave her his older brother knows best look. “I’ve been protecting him while you’ve been in a coma, and I’ll keep doing it.”
Cyra sighed, “Fine.”
“I’ll come back tomorrow to check on you again and show you a few exercises you can do to ease your legs back into use.” The physician packed up his things. “Until then, stay in bed.”
He left, and Mihrab stepped forward to give her a quick hug. “Prince Vitalis and I need to go, but I’ll check on you later.”
Mihrab moved to leave, but Vitalis hesitated. Mihrab glared at the prince.
Vitalis winced, turning his head. With one glance at Cyra, his face softened. “I’ll be there in a second. There’s something I need to say.”
Mihrab’s eyes narrowed. Cyra studied them both. Some kind of conversation was happening that she couldn’t hear. Mihrab left, saying, “Make it count.”
That was an odd thing to say.
Once Mihrab was gone, Vitalis moved to Cyra’s side, sitting on the edge of her bed. He said, “Now that the funeral is over, many of the delegates and the lords are going to leave.”
“That’s strange. I thought they would stay for the Century Storm. It’s coming up soon, isn’t it?” Cyra asked, picking at the edge of her bracelet.
“The negotiations are mostly done, Vialya’s being an exception, so only the ones who have to finish are staying. Of course, everyone stayed for the funeral, but they’ll head out tomorrow. The shah certainly won’t be doing anything for the Century Storm.” Vitalis’ fingers twitched against the mattress.
“Soray would want him too,” Cyra whispered. Her heart clenched, and her throat tightened, but she kept speaking, “She would want us to still celebrate it, even we have to do it in our mourning clothes.”
“It wouldn’t feel right,” Vitalis said. He ducked his head; his eyes flickered between the bed and her own.
“Of course it wouldn’t feel right.” Cyra let her bracelets fall back on her wrists. “But Soray was too kind to wish for all of us to let a once in a lifetime event pass by in silence because of her.”
“It’s still a little bit away, maybe things will change.”
“You’re staying that long?” Cyra sat up slightly. Her breath hitched.
“Yes, my job isn’t done yet. I still have a lot to do here before I can even think of going home.” He was giving her that look again.
Home. Vialya. A weight settled in Cyra’s chest. She always knew Vitalis was temporary, but it was so easy to forget. He made it so easy to forget he was just passing through. He wasn’t really meant to be part of her life.
“You must be very homesick, having been here so long,” Cyra sighed.
“I miss Vialya a lot. I miss my mother a lot. I often wonder what she would do instead, if I’m making her proud or just making her worry endlessly about me. While you were under, I spent most nights wondering if I just should have stayed in Vialya.” Vitalis admitted quietly. “I wonder what she’s going to say when I tell her everything that’s happened. I wonder if this is all worth it, but then I realize that I know it is worth it. I know that when I do return, I’ll end up missing Sardes more than I ever imagined possible.”
The question was on her lips. What made you realize it was worth it?
He looked up at her, and the intensity in his eyes made the question die.
“I hope you do think of us, remember us every once in a while.” Cyra didn’t want to be just a memory to him, but there wasn’t anything else she could be.
“Maybe you’ll find your way to Vialya one day,” Vitalis said. There was a strange, small spark in his voice, in his eyes.
“Maybe, my Vialyan would need some brushing up though.” Cyra let herself have a small smile.
“I’d be happy to tutor you, zvezda moya.” Vitalis smiled.
Cyra shook her head, and her hair shifted over her shoulder. “That’s where you’re going to start. Tell me what that means.”
Vitalis carefully reached forward, brushing her hair out of her face. “I will tell you what it means when you’re ready. You’re not ready yet.”
He rose to his feet. There it was again, that look. What did he want to see in her?
“There’s a lot I’ll tell you when you’re ready, but not right now. Not today.” Vitalis moved towards the door. “Goodbye.”
“For now,” Cyra said as he was halfway out the door. “In a week, week and a half at most, I’ll be back as your bodyguard.”
Why was he looking at her like that? He knew something she didn’t. Why did he look so torn up?
“Get well soon, zvezda moya.”